UBC Med students organize protective equipment donation drive

Mar 26 2020, 5:00 pm

Some British Columbia medical students are organizing a donation drive for personal protective equipment (PPE) for frontline healthcare workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Doctors-in-training at the University of British Columbia are gathering surgical masks, N95 masks, gowns, gloves, and eyewear donated from medical and dental clinics, labs, and businesses that don’t need them.

“We’re trying to plan ahead to make sure that no emergency room physician, intensive care physician, anesthesiologist, or any front line health care worker is needing to intubate or care for a covid-positive patient in an unprotected way,” Ian Malnis, a third-year medical student, told Daily Hive in a phone interview.

He’s part of a group called BC Medical Student COVID-19 Response Group, which works with professors, working doctors, and dentists to organize the drive. They drop off donated equipment with local health authorities who distribute it to frontline staff.

“We, of course, are very grateful to the public for their generosity,” Vancouver Coastal Health spokesperson Carrie Stefanson said, adding VCH has a new website answering frequently asked questions about donating equipment.

Dentists played a huge role in organizing the drive and have been responsible for most of the donations so far, according to Malnis. Most dental clinics across the province have stopped performing elective and non-emergency procedures during the pandemic, lessening their need for PPE.

Protective equipment helps prevent healthcare workers from catching the coronavirus and other pathogens from patients they’re treating. Italy and the US, two countries battling high COVID-19 caseloads, are already experiencing PPE shortages. It’s a situation that Malnis and others want to avoid in BC.

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said at her daily update Wednesday that she’s seen a “dramatic increase in use” of PPE as the province deals with more and more coronavirus cases. The “burn rate” for PPE has been higher than expected, meaning doctors, nurses, and others are replacing their masks more often.

“We’re actively looking at how we can get as much as we can in the short term,” Henry said, explaining the province is awaiting several shipments of equipment and is looking at “alternative” ways of procuring it.

For Malnis, her words mean it’s even more important to gather donations and “get out ahead of what could be a big crisis,” he said.

donated masks

Personal protective equipment donations gathered by UBC Medicine students

How to donate:

If you work at a medical office, dental clinic, laboratory, or other business that has surplus PPE to donate, Malnis suggests filling out an online donor form.

In the interest of limiting community spread, the students are setting up several community drop-off points for donors to leave their equipment. If need be, boxes can also be picked up by student volunteers.

The students have expanded the donation drive province-wide, since UBC Medicine has sites in Victoria, Kelowna, and Prince George as well. If you have questions, Malnis says to contact a student representative:

Lower Mainland: Regan Mah at 780-246-7890 or [email protected]

Vancouver Island: Jesse Spooner at [email protected]

Okanagan: Regan Mah at 780-246-7890 or [email protected]

Prince George: Regan Mah at 780-246-7890 or [email protected]

Other ways medical students are helping

As Malnis and his colleagues are collecting donated equipment, others in his class are lending their skills in different ways.

Many students are volunteering at 811, HealthLink BC’s phone number that people should call if they think they’re infected with the coronavirus. Other students are helping the BC Centre for Disease Control and health authorities trace infected people’s contacts.

Others are working on education campaigns about COVID-19 and on how to properly use PPE.

As healthcare workers continue heading to hospitals and clinics while schools are closed, some students are even helping frontline staff with their childcare needs.

“We’ve all been spending the last six to seven years of our lives working towards helping patients and being one of those front line health care workers,” Malnis said, explaining students’ desire to help while their university classes and clinical placements are suspended during the pandemic.