In early March, health care workers in the United States began to sound the alarm. Personal protective equipment (PPE) was already starting to be in limited supply in hospitals and clinics across the country, and the COVID-19 pandemic had only just officially been declared.
Explore This IssueACEP Now: Vol 39 – No 05 – May 2020
On March 17, Esther Choo, MD, MPH, associate professor of emergency medicine at Oregon Health & Science University School of Medicine, issued a tweet calling for frontline health workers to demand PPE and tag their lawmakers. She created the hashtag #GetMePPE, and it immediately took off.
“A number of us started to sound the alarm about the need for increased production and equitable distribution of PPE across the country,” said Megan L. Ranney, MD, MPH, associate professor in the department of emergency medicine at the Rhode Island Hospital/Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University in Providence. “We realized it was not going to happen at the scale or speed we needed.”
With Dr. Choo and other colleagues, she helped create the grassroots coalition #GetUsPPE. Weeks later, however, what she and its numerous other co-founders initially thought would be just a stopgap effort to help get PPE to health care workers has become an extended and increasingly sophisticated measure in light of high-level failures to address critical shortages.
“The supply chain is showing no indication of becoming functional, and now we are predicting a second wave [of illness] when we relax social-distancing guidelines,” said Dr. Ranney.
The health care workers, scientists, engineers, and others behind the scenes of #GetUsPPE have, since mid-March, been creating a centralized system for taking requests for PPE and seeing it distributed to the places it’s needed most.
“It evolved from a very rough website that basically allowed people to publicly post if they had a need for PPE and post if they had donations so they could match themselves, and now it’s a much more advanced database,” said Dr. Ranney. “We do behind-the-scenes analysis and matching on a daily basis.” To date, #GetUsPPE has fielded nearly 7,500 requests and helped distribute more than 1 million pieces of PPE.
This evolution is due, in part, to the work of #GetUsPPE medical lead Shuhan He, MD, an emergency physician at the Center for Innovation in Digital HealthCare at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, who helped build an on-demand database to assist with fulfilment.
“My skill set is building websites, and this caught national attention,” said Dr. He, CTO of #GetUsPPE. “I like to solve problems, and this is one that is very in the atmosphere. I [grabbed] onto it and realized it’s a big problem. Not everyone can solve every problem at once, so I focused on it.”