In late March, Yale School of Management alumni and friends received from Joel Getz, senior associate dean for development and alumni relations at SOM, an appeal for items drastically in need by Yale New Haven Hospital and hospitals in the local communities of alumni.
This led to an immediate outpouring of goodwill.
Connections were quickly made through SOM channels to Shanghai-based alums Julie Zhao ’14 MBA, Joshua Chen ’15 MBA, and Helen Sun ’14 MBA, who had, with strong support from Yongqiang Qian '00 MBA, already sent $30,000 worth of disposable gloves using funds from alumni and friends. Subsequently, they were able to source a reputable firm that provided the needed masks for Yale New Haven Hospital, raised the $45,000 to buy and ship the 7,500 masks they procured, and arranged delivery to Yale New Haven Hospital.
At the same time, the Yale Club of Hong Kong (YCHK) went into action. As the crisis in New York unfolded, many wanted to help medics working on the frontlines of the coronavirus pandemic, which led to an initiative started by Hong Kong-based Yale alumni Priscilla Song ’00 (a medical anthropologist at the University of Hong Kong), Joseph Walline ’00 (an emergency medicine physician trained in New York who now works at Prince of Wales Hospital), Robert Martinez ’09 (vice president of hardware for a New York tech startup called Hammerhead.io), and Emma Buchtel ’99 (a cultural psychologist at Education University of Hong Kong and a former Yale-China Fellow at Yali Middle School).
Together with a group of dedicated volunteers that included Amy Hsiao ’99 and Gilda Liu '03 MBA, they created the “HK PPE Care Package Project.” Focused on a person-to-person model, the YCHK volunteer initiative connected medics in need of personal protective equipment (PPE) with donors in Hong Kong. The Yalies set up medic request and donation forms and began the arduous task of tracking down high-quality N95 respirator masks from legitimate suppliers.
The need in New York City has been overwhelming as doctors, nurses, paramedics, and other healthcare workers battle the surge in COVID-19 patients while confronting a shortage of protective equipment, ventilators, hospital beds, and more. The conditions they relayed through the online medic request form were sobering:
“We are quickly running out of supplies. Covid patients are overtaking the entire hospital already.”
"STRUGGLING. wearing n95 for 7 days until can get another one"
“There is not enough PPE for healthcare workers at our hospital.”
"Everything is so scarce. We are reusing one mask for days. ... Patients are coming in sicker and sicker. We will probably run out of ventilators this week."
“We have a large residency and I am the Residency Director. My resident body and attending staff would REALLY REALLY appreciate this and would be forever grateful.”
The HK PPE Care Package Project received phenomenal support from the YaleWomenHK network, a group of more than 80 Yale women in Hong Kong – led by 2019 Yale Medal recipient Caroline Van ’79 – that has been planning activities to celebrate 50WomenAtYale150 (50 years of women at Yale College and 150 years of women at Yale University). In less than two days, they received more than 65,000 HKD (Kong Kong dollars) from more than two dozen participants in Hong Kong. And to date, they have sourced and donated more than 2,000 N95 respirators in the form of care packages sent directly to medics on the front lines of the COVID-19 surge, including several Yale alumni working in New York City hospitals.
Based on their hard-earned lessons in procuring legitimate PPE, the Hong Kong volunteers also developed a guide on “Vetting Masks and Respirators during the COVID-19 Crisis” to help others avoid counterfeit products.
Meanwhile, in Shanghai, Julie reported success with the payment efforts to buy needed supplies for Yale New Haven Hospital: $32,000; RMB 277,169; and HK$49,282 from 70 donors. The outpouring of support enabled them to purchase 7,500 N95 masks for Yale and also 1,000 masks and 400 cases of medical gloves for shipment to New York.
The logistics of procuring high-quality masks from suppliers in mainland China and then shipping these to the U.S. have been daunting. The mask ban law enacted during the anti-ELAB protests have made it difficult to ship PPE through Hong Kong. Combined with massive flight cancellations, factory production disruptions, and shifting regulations, what used to be a simple click of a button on Amazon has turned into a laborious global effort by Yalies working around the clock.
To facilitate this work, Yalies in Hong Kong and China have combed their social networks to locate reliable suppliers, researched particulate filtering and fluid resistance reports, investigated various shipping routes, and even considered on-site factory visits to conduct due diligence on PPE manufacturers.
The work has proved well worth it. We have already received a thank you note from a New York-based doctor saying that the supply of N95 masks received might be the only ones the hospital has for the coming week. She noted that five anesthesiologists working in the emergency room had been infected, one hospitalized, and commented that, “When I do come to possess a N95 mask, I reuse it every day for a week. The masks that you have sent will become invaluable in the weeks to come.”
Already the Yalies in Asia are being joined by others with the network spreading as the immediate needs of Yale New Haven Hospital have been met and the need for supplies elsewhere appear staggering. The Yale volunteers in Hong Kong and mainland China as well as New Haven and New York have joined forces to create a joint WeChat group to verify reliable suppliers and quality of goods, share information, buy in bulk together, figure out shipping logistics, etc.
Best of all, these efforts are gaining steam. A YCHK member has since located a Yalie in the Boston area whose business has been selected to make the PPE shield for the local hospital network. And Julie Zhao’s alumni team in Shanghai and Priscilla Song’s alumni team in Hong Kong rallied together to get critical-quality supplies to Yale New Haven Hospital and to medics in New York state, delivering 5,000 high-quality Tyvek gowns and 25,000 N95 masks.
And the Yale effort, one that knows no boundaries, continues.
William Stork graduated from Yale College in 1962 with a B.A. in History. He has served as president of the Yale Club of Southern California and the Yale Club of Hong Kong, as Asia Director for Yale Day of Service, and on the YAA Board of Governors. He currently lives in Hong Kong, where he is a member of the Yale Club of Hong Kong and the Yale International Alliance.
Editor’s note: If you are interested in assisting Yale students, researchers and medical staff, and/or the local New Haven community, please visit the Giving to Yale page dedicated to COVID-19.