Joining the Fight to Help Doctors With the COVID-19 Ventilator Rapid Response Team

COVID-19 is truly humbling. It’s infected nearly 2 million people and killed more than 120,000 worldwide, with the death toll continuing to rise. With millions of people quarantined at home, most of the world is at a standstill — one of the few exceptions being healthcare workers. They are struggling day in and day out to save lives, with limited and dwindling supplies of masks, gloves and equipment needed to protect themselves and treat patients. They are our best hope and our last defense; the canary in the coal mine signaling humanity’s ability to defend against this pandemic. 

It’s painful and discouraging to read about this in the news every day. I’ve felt particularly helpless learning about hospitals getting overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients, nurses and doctors themselves becoming sick, and hospitals not having enough ventilators for all the patients who need them. So when one of our clients at Mission North reached out to my colleague Katie Garagozzo and me and said he had friends in the medical community with a solution to the ventilator shortage who needed some communications support, we couldn’t say “yes” fast enough. Within a week, we had a PR strategy in place and had announced to the public the important work of the COVID-19 Ventilator Rapid Response Team. A handful of Mission North colleagues pitched in, as did some collaborators at the W2O Group who brought healthcare-specific and other expertise. 

The ingenious team of doctors and engineers from UC Berkeley, UCSF and alumni figured out a way to use a sleep apnea machine (CPAP/BiPAP) connected to an endotracheal tube or face mask to get similar functionality as a ventilator. They created the VentilatorSOS website where doctors and hospitals can request the modified devices people can donate machines they aren’t using. 

Since the launch, the project has been quickly gaining momentum. The FDA affirmed that this solution is a viable alternative to ventilators in helping get oxygen to patients who can’t breathe on their own. People have donated about 3,000 sleep apnea devices through the website. The team is working with a large logistics company on distribution plans, and is partnering with a host of organizations looking to use the devices. 

Meanwhile, initial media coverage has included appearances on ABC7 News, KNTV/NBC News and KRON4 News, as well as articles in publications like Wired, San Francisco Chronicle/SFGate, TechCrunch, SF Business Times, Forbes, FierceHealthcare and PBS NewsHour, while Katie Couric posted a Q&A with leaders of the VentilatorSOS team on her Medium page. 

My colleagues and I would have taken on the work in our spare time if it had come down to that, but Mission North has a generous paid volunteer program that allowed us to help out with this effort at scale. As part of our E3thos program, all employees are given the opportunity to use 40 hours of paid time volunteering however they wish. In the past, I’ve spent my volunteer hours rescuing wildlife at Alturas Wildlife Sanctuary in Costa Rica and doing PR and content strategy for Global March for Elephants and Rhinos and the Climate Defense Project. This time, I got the chance to help get much-needed equipment into the hands of workers on the front-lines of this global pandemic. 

It’s been an honor to work with the Ventilator Rapid Response Team and to have the opportunity to do such gratifying work on a project that could really make a difference. Now, I’m feeling less helpless and much more inspired. 

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Stay safe.