When Neurosurgery Department Head Clark C. Chen, MD, PhD, received an email recently from a colleague, he was “overwhelmed with gratitude.” The message from neurologist Laura Li, MD, who practices at the M Health Fairview Neurology Clinic in St. Paul, let Chen know about a donation of 10,000 face masks. “This incredible gift allows us to better protect our healthcare workers during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Chen.

Committed volunteers
“This could not have been accomplished without the outpouring of compassion from our communities,” said Li. “The hard work was done by committed volunteers with concerted efforts from the Chinese American community led by the Association of Minnesota Chinese Physicians [AMCP].”

It started with what the community saw was happening in China and Italy. “Even though we’re all front-line physicians from different organizations, we asked ourselves the same question, ‘how can we help?’” said Li, who is AMCP president. The answer? To shore up needed supplies by purchasing or collecting personal protective equipment (PPE), such as N95 masks, face shields, and face masks (surgical and medical), which are needed to help fight the spread of COVID-19 and keep healthcare workers – and patients – safe.

Overwhelming support
To accomplish this goal, members of AMCP started Covid-19 relief fundraising. They mobilized local media, wrote letters to various organizations/entities and called friends and families. “One by one and little by little, in less than two weeks’ time, hundreds of families responded with overwhelming support, not only from our own state, but from China or other states as well,” said Li. At the end of the second week, the organization had raised more than $80,000 and collected more than 12,000 PPE items.

As a result, AMCP delivered more than 30,000 PPE to M Health Fairview (10,000 face masks and 200 N95 masks, as well other items), HealthPartners respiratory clinics and operating rooms (800 N95 masks and other PPE), Hennepin Healthcare, Centracare in St. Cloud, two nursing homes, Allina Clinics and emergency room, and to the Emergency Physicians Professional Association (three local urgent care facilities). AMCP is expecting more than 30,000 masks, face shields, goggles, and isolation gowns to arrive soon from China and will deliver the supplies to healthcare facilities where they are needed. “Further purchases will be considered if the supply chain within the states remains deficient,” said Li.

Tremendous effort
To preserve limited PPE resources within the United States, AMCP identified reputable medical PPE companies in China. “This required a tremendous effort from our volunteers,” Li said. “They made thousands of calls and screened hundreds of companies to find the best products that meet current FDA and CDC specifications.”

To ensure AMCP could get even more masks, the local Chinese American communities mobilized and asked friends and family members in China to send boxes of 100 masks – the maximum number that can be sent by an individual. Li herself successfully obtained four boxes that way. These donated masks are collected at the AMCP’s drop sites, assessed and then delivered to medical facilities.

AMCP physicians also heard from elderly patients that they didn’t have masks and didn’t know where to get them. In response to that need, volunteer groups have been making masks and delivering them in neighborhoods and to hospitals. “Engineers recommended sewing wires into them so the masks can be adjusted to fit the face,” Li said. “It’s just amazing to see our community come together like this with such great compassion and caring hearts!”

Doing all they can
For the most part, these are first-generation Chinese American immigrants, according to Li. “They may have a hard time expressing their feelings but they, like every other American, want to do all they can to contribute in this fight against the COVID-19 public health crisis that has eroded everyone’s life,” she said. “I’m inspired and encouraged by this community. They are writing a chapter in this pandemic with their compassionate actions and building a better community for us all! We can accomplish a lot and be stronger when we stay united.”

In reponse to all these efforts, Chen recalled something that actor Tom Hanks shared on social media while he was recovering from COVID-19. “In one of his messages,” said Chen, “he referred to a famous saying of American television personality Fred Rogers: ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ The most wonderful thing about our world is that Mr. Rogers is absolutely right. And helpers, such as the Association of Minnesota Chinese Physicians, are what will sustain, nourish, and comfort us.”

More about AMCP
In existence since 2003, the mission of the Association of Minnesota Chinese Physicians is to support the community by raising awareness of the importance of public health/general medical education and providing health counseling services for socio-economic challenged populations and those with language barriers. “Every year, we go to nursing homes and adult day care centers to promote good health and disease prevention,” said Li. “We talk to communities about conditions such as Alzheimer’s, heart disease, Parkinson’s, and blood pressure. We also teach CPR in schools and community centers.” AMCP members mentor students who want to get into medical school and staff a twice-monthly free clinic for anyone who can’t afford healthcare (closed until the COVID-19 threat has passed). “We also write about health issues such as COVID-19 in both Chinese and English,” said Li. AMCP website.