UF Health Shands is no stranger to the appreciation of grateful patients. But this time, the health behemoth was on the receiving end of heart-warming acts of kindness.
Like their colleagues nationwide, UF Health workers faced long hours and shortages in protective gear as COVID-19 patients began to fill hospital beds in March. Fortunately, members of the Gator Nation took swift action to ease their burdens – from donating face masks and cookies to serenading nurses during shift changes.
More than 30,000 items of protective gear and related supplies have been gifted to the UF Health system, some of it handcrafted by faculty members and local sewers.
Cataloguing each donated item has been Dawn Watkins, director of strategic sourcing for UF Health Shands. Regardless of the size or amount, “every gift counts,” she affirms.
“People even dropped off single containers of Clorox wipes – a priceless gift considering major shortages in the market!” said Watkins. “It has been so moving to see people’s dedication and sense of urgency to make a difference.”
Here are just a few of the many acts of kindness spurred by the COVID-19 crisis.
Click on each photo to learn the story behind the gift
Mask Heroes Came Through for Masked Heroes
Gainesville’s Chinese Community Rallied for Health Care Workers
“We’re one big family here”
From Battling Hurricanes to Battling Covid
Ford Motor Co. Steers Protective Gear to Shands
An Empty Chemistry Lab Yields Vital Supplies
Make That a Rum and … Hand Sanitizer?
Feeding the Front Line
Cheers from Children
A UF Symbol Is Bathed in Blue
A Personal Message, From 6 Feet ‘Close’
Serenading to Lift Spirits
Looking Down to Look Up
The Blue (and Orange) Angels
One for All and All for One
Donations of ear-loop masks, N95 masks, gowns and gloves poured in from supporters far and wide, including alumni, grateful patients, Tyler’s Hope for a Dystonia Cure, the Alachua County Health Department and even a hospital in Shanghai.
Hundreds of faculty members and local sewers crafted fabric ear-loop masks using patterns designed by the UF Department of Anesthesiology. Chief among these citizen groups was Gainesville Face Mask Crafters for COVID-19 Support, led by engineering alumna and former Gainesville mayor Pegeen Hanrahan, and Rose Cottage Quilters, which repurposed fabric from a quilting store owned by Stephanie Metts, wife of neuroscientist and former UF Health CEO Paul Metts.
Brian Sevier, COO of UF’s Clinical and Translational Science Institute, which received the donation from the Rose Cottage Quilters, said the face masks “will help protect both clinical research participants and UF study teams as they get back to the science of new treatments.”
Among the first to respond to the PPE shortage were members of Gainesville’s Chinese community, led by Changweng Deng and UF pathologist Dr. Xiuli Liu. In just three days, their Facebook group raised more than $30,000 to purchase protective equipment directly from China, including face masks and highly sought-after shoe covers. Another $9,000 followed.
Similarly, UF astronomy professor Jian Ge – discoverer of the planet Vulcan – worked directly with donors in China to supply UF Health with more than 8,000 masks, including 2,000 N95 masks.
“Nobody can survive without the global help for each other,” Ge said.
On Friday morning, May 8, 6,000 masks donated by Bass Pro Shops in Celebration Pointe were escorted to UF Health Shands via police motorcade. With the ShandsCair helicopter flying overhead, employees of the Gainesville sporting goods store handed boxes of PPE to grateful health care workers.
Bass Pro Shops general manager Michael O’Brien oversaw the hand-off, alongside Ed Jimenez, CEO of UF Health Shands.
“What I recognize is, we’re one big family here,” Jimenez told the crowd gathered outside. “Moments like this tell us we are in it together.”
Normally, UF’s Powell Family Structures & Materials Laboratory studies the impacts of hurricane-force winds on building materials. But when COVID-19 struck, its leaders teamed up with UF anesthesiologists to produce face shields and intubation technology.
Using a router and cutting knife, they made simple shields from transparent plastic and self-adhering straps, bonded with glue and foam donated by Home Depot.
“We got creative at a time when the availability of personal protective equipment was unknown, to make sure all of the people on the frontlines are safe,” said Stephanie Gore, quality and patient safety officer for the UF Department of Anesthesiology.
In mid-March, US car manufacturers joined the race to manufacture plastic face shields to protect workers in contact with COVID-19 from virus-containing fluids. Among them was Ford Motor Co., which by May 13 had produced more than 14 million face shields – or one face shield every 10 seconds – thanks to 3D printing and assembly-line manufacturing.
On April 22, Ford donated 4,450 FDA-approved face shields to UF Health Shands via Brandon Ford dealership in Tampa.
"These frontline defenders, they go into war every day with only a mask as their shield and intubation pipes as their sword," said Adrian Price, Ford’s lead on the COVID-19 project. “We’re here to support them.”
After most UF students went home in March, lab specialist Candace Biggerstaff realized the General Chemistry teaching lab had all the ingredients sitting around, unused, to make the World Health Organization’s formula for hand sanitizer, crucial in the fight against the virus.
“She made a batch, and the idea just took off from there,” said chemistry chair Lisa McElwee-White.
By mid-April, the chemistry department had made hundreds of liters of sanitizer for UF Health Shands hospital.
Donors kept UF Health workers well fed by gifting meals from local restaurants, including Sonny’s BBQ, Fresco’s Pizza and Pasta, Firehouse Subs and Blue Gill Quality Foods.
Donuts, pizza and other snacks likewise lifted morale.
COVID-19 couldn’t stop smiles from spreading in April when A-Turner Moving & Storage donated 20,000 boxes of Girl Scout cookies to be distributed to workers throughout the hospital system.
Children’s messages of hope and gratitude have uplifted hundreds of UF Health workers, including new physicians in training.
Dr. Julia Close, associate dean of graduate medical education, put out a call in late March asking local children to write letters to UF Health residents and fellows, thanking them for their dedication.
Drawings and handwritten messages poured in. Whether it was a toddler’s scribble or 10-year-old's careful depiction of a nurse in a red cape, the youngsters’ efforts sent a similar message: Thank you for being our superheroes.
Rum producer Bacardi sparked a nationwide trend when it pivoted to making hand sanitizer in early April. Bacardi’s Jacksonville bottling operation produced more than 120,000 750-ml bottles for first responders in Florida’s 67 counties, including staff at UF Health Jacksonville.
The Jacksonville team routed the Bacardi donation to UF Health’s supply warehouse in Gainesville, where the sanitizer was transferred from tiny Bacardi-branded bottles to official UF Health pump dispensers.
The 11-story Century Tower was lit in blue from May 6 to May 16 to honor the more than 11,000 UF Health Shands employees in Gainesville and their UF Health colleagues throughout the region.
The special lighting coincided with National Nurses Week (May 6-12) and National Hospital Week (May 10-16).
Said UF President Kent Fuchs: “Lighting Century Tower blue is our way of joining communities across the globe in showing appreciation for these heroes and for their bravery, selflessness and compassion.”
UF medical students created a virtual way to thank essential workers nationwide via the 6FTCloser.com website and app. Users can upload short videos for caretakers who are nominated by coworkers, family and friends.
“By creating a human connection between those of us at home and on the frontlines, we’re bringing everyone 6FTCloser,” says the organization’s website.
Musicians from UF’s Arts in Medicine (AIM) Program typically serenade patients at their bedsides with songs of their choosing. Studies show that music therapy reduces pain and speeds healing.
When COVID-19 hit, social distancing limitations prompted AIM musicians to begin streaming their performances online – and not just for patients, but for the nurses and doctors giving their all.
Every Friday, AIM presents Facebook Live all-request concerts, with participants requesting songs in the live feed -- “All You Need Is Love,” “Still Crazy after All These Years,” “Won’t Back Down” -- just as they would in person.
“Your voice is always a balm to our souls,” texted one listener.
After a long shift caring for COVID-19 patients, UF Health physicians, nurses and staff can end up physically and emotionally exhausted. Over the last two months, artists in residence from Arts in Medicine have adorned sidewalks around UF Health buildings with chalk messages to inspire them.
During several beautiful days in early April, AIM artists and administrators created an explosion of sidewalk art at UF Health Shands Children’s Hospital, Cancer Hospital, Heart and Vascular Hospital and emergency centers at Springhill and Kanapaha.
Workers at UF Health Jacksonville are assisting some of communities hardest hit by the pandemic. So when the elite flying squadron known as the Blue Angels flew overhead to salute the city’s frontline workers May 8, UF Health Jax workers were deeply honored.
Members of the UF Health Veterans Employee Resource Group proudly held up banners to show the pilots that UF Health and the Blue Angels were of one heart and mind that day.
Patients likewise applauded their local health care heroes.
“We appreciate and love our first responders,” wrote one UF Health Jax fan on Facebook.
Starting in mid-March, UF units all across the state suspended non-COVID-related research and boxed up their labs’ gloves, swabs and masks to be delivered to fellow employees on the frontlines of patient care and research.