New York City’s Dental Organizations Mobilize Grassroots PPE Donation Initiative
This article I wrote along with my colleagues and friends Dr. Lauren Levi and Gillian Gerstley was published last week with the NYCDS and I wanted to share it, as well. On March 16th the ADA recommended that dental offices limit their office hours for a minimum of three weeks. The New York State Dental Association (NYSDA) and New York County Dental Society (NYCDS), provided similar guidance as COVID-19 cases soared exponentially in a matter of days. Consequentially, Governor Cuomo of New York mandated only emergency services could remain open in order to help flatten the curve of the pandemic in New York.
How a Grassroots Vision Came to Life
Within days of the office shutdown mandate, Dr. Lauren Levi, Manhattan-based orofacial pain and dental oncologist, reached out to the Alpha Omega International Dental Society (AO) New York Chapter Board’s WhatsApp group, which was having ongoing COVID-19 conversations. She had a vision to organize dentists to donate PPE supplies to the local emergency departments. Alpha Omega is a non-profit organization that supports community service and outreach, which is core to its mission statement.
“Our idea to start a PPE supply drive started after a friend who is an emergency room physician mentioned that she was short on PPE. The media were consistently portraying that hospitals were devoid of PPE, and we couldn't just sit back while our friends could be suffering. It has aptly been described as sending medical professionals into battle without armor. In the beginning, the situation felt hopeless - how could hospital systems adequately treat patients if they could not even protect their staff?” – Dr. Levi
The endeavor was well-received by the New York Alpha Omega Chapter Board. Dr. Whitney Mostafiz-Levinson, a Manhattan-based orthodontist who is president of the chapter, also serves on the Give Kids A Smile Steering Committee for NYCDS. Accordingly, she worked with leaders from both of these organizations to quickly
establish and secure a collaborative action plan, as everything was time-sensitive. Organized action and results were desperately needed.
“I’m truly inspired; what was a late-night hypothetical conversation transformed in a matter of days into donations, from as far as Florida, of thousands of units of protective equipment to several hospitals in NYC. I’m proud, and my heart is warmed, to have such selfless friends and colleagues who take the time and effort to support the frontline medical community combatting COVID-19 head on.” – Dr. Mostafiz-Levinson
Initially, the team relied heavily on social media to get the word out about collecting PPE. They created a Facebook group called “Medical Supply Drive for Emergency Departments in NYC”, which currently has over 350 members. Additionally, a WhatsApp group was created and dedicated to the moving parts of this cause, which currently has 35 participants. NYSDA and the NYCDS additionally joined forces, which has helped considerably in mobilizing a team of dentists across New York State. The organized dental organizations gave this collaborative grassroots group of professionals the credibility, increased exposure and support needed to ask for supplies. Members of the group cold-called dental offices around the state, as well as those of physicians, veterinarians, sleep centers, and nail salons asking for donations. Once donors agreed to participate, volunteers picked up the supplies from donors’ homes or offices and brought them directly to hospital frontlines in need. Furthermore, the group has started an Instagram account @donate_ppe_nyc to honor the donors through social media.
“From the beginning, our goal was to make it as easy as possible to help and volunteer. We created call and email scripts and sent out reminders via email. We also made it easy on our donors by offering to pick up supplies if they could not bring to the hospital directly. Our grassroots supply drive came together relatively quickly given that everyone wanted to get involved, and I think the idea that we could directly help by protecting our medical colleagues compelled people to step up.” – Dr. Levi
Dr. Levi, along with Jillian Gerstley, another founder of the grassroots group, obtained contacts for every major hospital in New York City and texted with them on a daily basis. Moreover, everyone in the group contributed their hospital contacts to bypass any “red tape” and get supplies directly to the medical teams that needed it.
Earlier in the pandemic, certain NYC hospitals that were short on PPE would not allow Emergency Department staff to use protective gear unless the patient had been tested positive. Through the group’s donations, the department was able to get access to supplies.
“We had some really cool offers for donations that were out of the box. For instance wedding dress makers sewed masks for special-needs group homes. Adam Dreyfus, Senior Account Manager of Dental Services Group (DSG), had his team 3D-print Y-splitters, which enables one ventilator to be used for two people. Dentists from Florida and from across the state mailed supplies to hospitals like Elmhurst, Jacobi, Brooklyn Hospital Center, Montefiore, NYPH-Queens and Mount Sinai West each time an article was posted in the news about their dire situation for PPE. Nikita Bhatnagar, Global Sourcing Director of Harry’s Shave Club, was able to use her connections to get a generous donation of 500 of N95 masks to distribute. Oftentimes, we’d call dentists to ask for donations and they had already brought their supplies to local hospitals without having to be asked - that was incredibly heartwarming. One of our volunteers was a radiologist who was working shifts in the COVID-19 ICU, driving to pick up supplies, and helping to 3D-print others. Various people from our team used online guides to make face shields, as well.” – Jillian Gerstley
On April 1st, NYSDA shared that “In the first week of opening donation requests, dentists across New York State generously donated 320 N95 and level 3 surgical masks, 18,370 level 1 and 2 masks, 858 boxes of gloves, 126 eye shields, 184 gowns, and a number of containers of Caviwipes and sanitizer.” The group is proud to share that donations have increased tremendously since then.
There are three areas where dentists have made a meaningful impact during this crisis: 1) many dentists have donated their PPE to local hospitals that are in a desperate need of protective equipment, 2) dentists are keeping their offices open only for emergency procedures, lessening the burden of dental emergencies in emergency rooms and 3) dentists have volunteered to work on the frontlines for the state in response to the governor’s request. They are delivering supplies, answering 311 calls to triage patients, volunteering at COVID-19 testing sites, and providing general care to Emergency Departments and ICU patients.
There are too many generous grassroots participants to list here…from the individuals and companies that donated PPE, to those that drove to pick up and deliver supplies, to those that made calls, and more. When things are more manageable, the group will compile a directory of all the dentists and other volunteers who stepped up. When the crisis in New York City is passed we hope to acknowledge everyone for their remarkable efforts. Don’t forget -- karma is a beautiful thing :)
Now more recently conversations have begun about reopening. Truth is, and I think I speak for many, I am experiencing a mixed range of emotions, from eagerness to fear. Dentistry has been noted in many reliable sources of journalism as the highest-risk profession in terms of occupational exposure. Meanwhile, many of us donated our PPE and now it’s really hard to obtain access to these supplies or have gubernatorial support of our needs. I really hope we don’t get left behind and that our sacrifices are not forgotten.
My colleague Andrew Deutch has started a GoFundMe to increase awareness of the current predicament as well as with hopes to raise funds to procure PPE for us NY dentists. Please consider contributing to this cause so that we may continue to provide great AND safe dental care to all :)