China received help from Direct Relief as the COVID-19 outbreak grew.
The Goleta nonprofit supplied masks, gowns, face shields and gloves in what turned out to be a dress rehearsal for its efforts in the U.S. to deal with the novel coronavirus.
“What we learned from China is the demand spikes (for supplies) can occur rapidly,” Thomas Tighe, the Direct Relief president and CEO, told the News-Press. “Having the experience in working with Chinese health officials for the last two months is very instructive.”
Today, Direct Relief is working with local officials, the California Department of Public Health and health care centers nationally to stay ahead of the coronavirus, Mr. Tighe said.
He said Direct Relief has committed to spending $2 million for its U.S. efforts.
Those efforts include Direct Relief’s backyard. On Wednesday, Direct Relief announced it was supplying N95 masks to Sansum Clinic, which serves Santa Barbara and other parts of Santa Barbara County.
There are still no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the county.
In the earlier interview with the News-Press, Mr. Tighe said Direct Relief sent masks to a community health center in Kirkland, the Seattle suburb where 26 people with confirmed cases of the coronavirus died in a nursing home.
“We got in touch with them and said, ‘How can we help? If you need masks, we’ll send them,’ ” Mr. Tighe said.
Direct Relief also has sent masks to community health centers in Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Jose and the Northern California city of Eureka, as well as Boston and Nashville.
Mr. Tighe added that Direct Relief’s help was almost needed for the Grand Princess, the cruise ship that docked at the Port of Oakland after it had 21 confirmed cases of the coronavirus, 19 of which involved crew members.
Before the Grand Princess docked, there was concern about passengers running out of their medications for chronic conditions, such as insulin for managing diabetes.
“We were prepared to respond within 24 hours,” Mr. Tighe said.
But the medications were no longer an issue after Grand Princess was allowed to dock and the passengers disembarked Sunday.
Mr. Tighe said Italy, which has seen a dramatic increase in cases, has not asked for Direct Relief’s help.
He said Direct Relief became involved with China two months ago and has sent nearly 900,000 N95 masks to the nation, along with face shields, gown and gloves.
“We got pulled into it unexpectedly in China,” Mr. Tighe said.“Typically we don’t do much in China. They don’t often seek or accept any foreign assistance.”
But he said help was requested by the director of the Wuhan Union Hospital, the largest hospital in Wuhan, the Chinese city where the coronavirus outbreak began.
“They didn’t have their protective gear. We had what we thought at the time was a very strong stockpile,” Mr. Tighe said.
As the outbreak has expanded into the U.S. and California, a similar pattern of needs is emerging, Mr. Tighe said.
“Just seeing how the pattern of the outbreak unfolded in China is instructive to what we can expect anywhere as the outbreak happens,” he said. “We’re trying to use any requests we received from China as a proxy for the potential here.”
He said Direct Relief has about 500,000 N95 masks in its stockpile. “We’re trying to ration them in a way that is consistent with what the public health officials are saying and the circumstances require.”
Mr. Tighe said Direct Relief has a contract for a manufacturer to produce a couple million more masks.
He said one need in China was portable oxygen concentrators. As patients were released from Intensive Care Units, they needed them as they recovered at home.
Portable oxygen concentrators are made by Inogen, a Goleta business near Direct Relief. Mr. Tighe said Inogen told Direct Relief the business received a request for the concentrators from a leading pulmonary physician in China.
Direct Relief sent 40 Inogen concentrators to China and is preparing for the possibility that concentrators may be needed for Americans leaving ICUs and recovering at home as the coronavirus cases grow in the U.S. The 40 comes from Direct Relief’s order of 500 oxygen concentrators from Inogen.
Mr. Tighe noted Direct Relief is also concerned about medical supplies falling short in other areas as resources are committed to the coronavirus. “One of the concerns we’re trying to address now is how we can make sure you can continue to provide support for low-income patients who don’t have insurance. The existing demand is not going to go away.”
Mr. Tighe said Direct Relief is reviewing plans for sending antibiotics and other medications to ICUs around the U.S.
He said the Goleta nonprofit also is prepared to send money to community health centers who help low-income patients or patients without insurance across the U.S.
Mr. Tighe said the centers are similar to Santa Barbara Neighborhood Clinics but are in less affluent areas and may not be receiving any philanthropic support.
“We’ve been stepping up general support to the community health centers because their role is so important.”