By Emma Swidler, a Team Leader for the Phone Banking Initiative and a blog contributor at GetUsPPE.org.
By late April, many states were eagerly preparing to reopen. But frontline workers knew that the nation was nowhere close to a state of safety. Amed Family Clinic in Nashville, Tennessee was one of many healthcare facilities within the US that had rapidly dwindling PPE supplies. Staff and doctors were using rain ponchos as gowns, and the number of cases at the clinic were rising.
As more facilities faced the same bleak reality, Dr. Megan Ranney and Dr. Shuhan He, Co-Founders of GetUsPPE, realized that GetUsPPE would need to massively update its PPE needs database in order to meet the nation’s quickly evolving needs. GetUsPPE conducted its first phone-banking project in late March, which successfully standardized the database. Our Demand Data Hub had become one of the nation’s largest, most comprehensive PPE needs databases, but many requests submitted in March were becoming outdated, while a second wave loomed. Anticipating this challenge, Dr. He and Dr. Ranney called upon the Data Integrity team to launch GetUsPPE’s Second Phone Banking Initiative.
Project Design and Implementation
Melissa Song and Galen Hu, incoming medical students at New York University (NYU) and co-leads of the Data Integrity Team, began recruiting volunteers and planning for GetUsPPE’s second Phone Banking Initiative, which would require calling over 5,000 organizations. After weeks of recruitment, 14 Team Leaders were onboarded to supervise around 20 callers each. Through partnerships with MoveOn.org, National Student Response Network, Clinton Global Initiative, and GetUsPPE’s social media team, over 400 volunteers signed up to be callers, of which 250 completed the training process and began calls. From June 8th to June 19th, volunteers made 12,150 calls and reached 4,906 facilities, which led to the update of over 5,000 PPE needs requests.
The phone banking project included two surveys: the PPE Needs Survey and the Maker-Made PPE Survey. The PPE Needs Survey asked facilities comprehensive questions regarding PPE supply shortages, as well as information for equitable donation matching, such as number of beds, whether facilities offered low or no fees, and if they accepted Medicaid. In the Maker-Made PPE Survey, callers asked facilities about the types and materials of maker-made PPE they would accept, which was critical for informing grassroots PPE makers about what textiles are acceptable to use in medical settings.
Stories from the Field
Although volunteers were given a call script, many found themselves consoling and listening to nurses, doctors, and administrators afraid for their jobs and their lives. Deepthi Sathyanarayana, a volunteer caller and a GetUsPPE team member, reported that she was “shocked to see the dire need for basic supplies like gloves and gowns.” As more callers reported similarly distressing accounts, the phone banking project took on a new dimension.
Galen and Melissa adapted the calling materials quickly, adding a section to the survey for volunteers to record stories from facilities that gave consent. “Some of the callers were reaching out with urgent requests, and there were a lot of stories behind them,” Melissa explained. “Their stories remind people why we do this work. If we can get their voices heard, we can make the need for PPE more visible, showing that the need for PPE is still very real.”
Even more importantly, by directly speaking with frontline workers, the Data Integrity Team identified organizations with severely urgent needs for PPE. More than one hundred organizations were connected with our Specialty Match Team, which is working to expedite PPE distribution to these particularly desperate facilities.
Lessons Learned and Next Steps
Unforeseen benefits arose from the Phone Banking Initiative, including data quality improvement and volunteer recruitment for other teams across GetUsPPE. As volunteers made calls, they flagged potential illegitimate requesters and erroneous contact information, manually cleaning the database and leaving higher quality data. Volunteer callers also provided feedback on the intake form, which helped the Tech Team streamline the process for facilities to update their requests going forward. Many volunteers have grown invested in GetUsPPE’s mission and have since joined other teams across the organization.
With freshly updated PPE needs data, the Match Team can accurately and dynamically match PPE to facilities across the country. Thankfully, another time-intensive phone banking effort of this scale will not be necessary, as our backend team has developed a self-service portal for facilities to update their data entries. Moving forward, Galen and Melissa will pivot to lead the Healthcare Outreach team, reaching out to underserved communities who have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19. GetUsPPE may not be able to prevent a second wave, but we can help prepare for one with accurate data, dedicated leaders, and diligent outreach to get PPE to frontline workers who need it most.
A special thanks to Galen Hu, Melissa Song, Joanna Calderon, Cody Reinold, Clé Diggens, Nikki Schulick, Lisa Watts, Amanda Peery-Wolf, Mai Lynn Miller Nguyen, Matt Rubashkin, all Team Leaders:
and our amazing caller volunteers: https://getusppe.org/volunteer/callers/.
We’d also like to thank the medical students who led our first phone banking initiative: Galen Hu, Clara Mao, Vivian Li, Charlotte Lee, Ben Pallant, and Maahika Srinivasan.