Gabrielle Hymel grew up watching her father, an emergency medicine physician, report to work never quite knowing what each day might bring.
But never had he, nor the thousands of other frontline healthcare workers in America, dealt with anything like the global coronavirus pandemic. As personal protective equipment has been in short supply across the country, a high percentage of those afflicted with COVID-19 have been healthcare workers.“He is in that age group where there are higher rates for severe complications if you get exposed,” said Hymel, a first-year medical student at The University of Toledo. “For a week or two, I was just very anxious watching coronavirus spread throughout the United States. I knew it was a matter of when, not if, this would come to our area, and I was just kind of wallowing in this anxiety.”
When a high school teacher of hers reached out to ask how they might go about donating gloves and hand sanitizer, a realization hit Hymel — she could do something to help.
“We need gloves, surgical masks, surgical gowns, isolation gowns, N95 masks, sanitizing equipment,” Hymel said. “A lot of people who have done painting work, do-it-yourself construction work, art with resin or spray paint, will buy N95s and forget about them. It’s just sitting in their garage, their basement. Let’s look.”
What started as a group chat with fellow medical students has grown into something much larger. Hymel quickly looped in with a group called Masks For Docs, a nonprofit organization dedicated to getting personal protective equipment in the hands of doctors, nurses and other medical professionals working with COVID-19 patients.
Hymel started a local chapter of Masks For Docs and began contacting tattoo parlors, schools, construction companies and other organizations that might have stock of personal protective equipment. The local chapter also is reaching out via social media to solicit donations from the community and has worked with UToledo academic labs to facilitate donations.
As of April 1, the group had collected a range of equipment and supplies, including 107 face shields, 165 surgical gowns, 85 boxes of gloves, hundreds of surgical masks, and a large supply of cleaning and disinfecting products.
The group also has been in touch with individuals who have experience in supply chain management and direct access to factories making personal protective equipment, including N95 respirators.
Hymel’s group has distributed material to a number of area hospitals, including The University of Toledo Medical Center.
“The willingness of our community to come and help has been very heartwarming,” Hymel said. “Every mask counts, every glove counts. These are people’s lives. These people have families. The more we can help them, the bigger the impact is.”