Keri Henley, right, UMMC associate executive director of development, helps Nina Ghaffari, a volunteer assisting Mississippi Spay and Neuter, unload donated surgical masks for the hospital's front-line caregivers.
Keri Henley, right, UMMC associate executive director of development, helps Nina Ghaffari, a volunteer assisting Mississippi Spay and Neuter, unload donated surgical masks for the hospital's front-line caregivers.
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Community donors bolster Medical Center during COVID-19 response

Published on Sunday, March 29, 2020

By: Ruth Cummins,

Mississippi Spay and Neuter is normally all about dogs and cats, but during the COVID-19 outbreak, the nonprofit is all about humans.

When its leaders learned that the University of Mississippi Medical Center is in critical need of gowns and masks worn by front-line health care workers caring for COVID-19 patients, they turned out their storage closets and made a difference.

“One of our employees said that our clinic has all these masks and gowns that were donated by people in human medicine,” said Shelby Parsons, communications manager for Mississippi Spay and Neuter, which operates The Big Fix Clinic in Richland. “We would typically use them when we do surgeries.”

They’re paying forward, donating a portion of what was gifted to them: 700 masks and a plethora of gowns.

“It’s going to be ground zero for everything going on,” Parsons said of the Medical Center. “UMMC is where everyone wants to be, because they get the best treatment there. Everyone is trying to innovate, and the Medical Center is going to be at the forefront of this for a long time.”

Department of Psychiatry project manager Erin Shirley Orey drops off boxes of gloves as a donation to the Medical Center's COVID-19 response.
Erin Shirley Orey, left, project manager in the Department of Psychiatry, donates boxes of gloves to the Medical Center's COVID-19 response.

The clinic’s donation is just one example of the creativity emanating from the community in response to ever-changing needs at the state’s only academic health sciences center.

“It’s such wonderful news that they would be willing to come help us at this time,” said Keri Henley, UMMC associate executive director of development. “We hadn’t thought to reach out to our veterinarian friends. It’s certainly a great reminder that we have to think outside of the box.”

Dozens of businesses, nonprofits, individuals and friend groups are answering the Medical Center’s call for donations and resources as the community outbreak grows. The Office of Development is coordinating, with help from others on campus, including the Children’s Miracle Network, which is part of Development, the Office of Patient Experience and the Office of Faculty Affairs.

UMMC front-line caregivers are doing what they do best – taking care of the sickest of the sick – with health experts saying the worst of the pandemic is yet to come. The community is rallying around the superheroes who, every day, wear scrubs in lieu of capes.

Last week, Whataburger fortified staff on several floors with a breakfast buffet of honey butter and chicken biscuits, jalapeno cheese biscuits, taquitos, cinnamon rolls and more. “We’ve always had the notion that we want to support the communities that support us,” said Mary Almond, Whataburger’s field brand development coordinator for Mississippi and north Louisiana.

“We’ve got to support these nurses, orderlies, doctors and all of the people who are putting their lives at risk to take care of those who are ill.”

Owners of Revell Ace Hardware did more than think out of the box. They thought in the box, a case that contained 300 pair of safety glasses intended for industrial use, but quite adaptable for use on the UMMC campus.

UMMC Children’s Miracle Network development specialist Andrew Russell reached out to Ace Hardware, parent to Revell Ace Hardware and Revell’s nine locations in the metro area. Revell sells safety goggles “day in and day out,” said Joe Rooks, who with brothers Tim and Dunaway owns Revell’s metro businesses. “With the demand, we’ve been depleted down to zero.”

Not quite, he discovered.

Man with box of goggles.
Paxton Rooks, manager of Revell Ace Hardware's north Jackson store, helps facilitate the donation of a case of safety goggles to the Medical Center.

“We have an industrial house in Pearl, and we deal with a lot of commercial customers, steel plants and welding suppliers,” Rooks said. “My brother Tim told me we had safety glasses there, a case of 300. He sent them to our north Jackson store where my son Paxton is manager, and Andrew picked them up.”

Revell has been a passionate supporter of Children’s of Mississippi and the Children’s Miracle Network for many years, Rooks said. “We did this because there’s a need. We didn’t do it for the advertising,” he said. “We try to be part of the community, wherever we are.”

Production at the Nissan vehicle assembly plant in Canton has been suspended in the COVID-19 outbreak’s wake, but its leaders are rolling out a donation that melds the auto giant’s resources with front-line needs. The gift: 1,250 pair of coveralls worn by workers on the automotive paint line, 125 boxes of gloves, 1,000 pounds of cleaning rags, and a case of 150 spray bottles that can be filled with cleaners.

“COVID-19 has affected us all, and we want to do our part to help those in need,” said Erik Fields, vice president of manufacturing for Nissan Canton’s plant. “Giving back to the communities where our employees live and work is in our DNA.”

UMMC Grenada also is getting a helping hand from the community, including two huge pallets of water donated to the Grenada hospital by Robbie Staten of Double S Inc. Staten sent one of his company’s trucks to collect the water in Oxford and bring it to UMMC Grenada.

UMMC’s Office of Development has posted a full list of the most critical needs on its website.

N-95 masks needed by those directly caring for COVID-19 patients are “pretty high up on our list,” Henley said. “We will continue to need them for a while, plus other PPE like gloves, gowns, goggles and face masks.

“We need iPads, iPhones and webcams from people who are no longer using them,” she said. “ We want to expand the use of telehealth through our Center for Telehealth so that people who are at high risk can be monitored from home, or so that medical staff at UMMC can communicate with them.”

The phones and iPads also can be used by isolated patients to visit with family members via FaceTime, she said.

Those who are sheltering in place or in home isolation can safely make a huge difference by donating online to UMMC’s COVID-19 Response Support Fund or by shopping from a special Amazon wish list of items needed by patients, families, front-line workers.

Olivia Woodward, left, and her mom, Dr. LouAnn Woodward, vice chancellor for health affairs and dean of the School of Medicine, hand off donations for COVID-19 relief at the Medical Center at a dropoff station in front of the School of Medicine.
Olivia Woodward, left, and her mother, Dr. LouAnn Woodward, vice chancellor for health affairs and dean of the School of Medicine, hand off donations for COVID-19 relief at a dropoff station in front of the medical education building.

Even students and employees staffing a drive-by specimen collection operation at the Mississippi State Fairgrounds in Jackson need help as temperatures climb into the 80s. “I added sunscreen and cooling towels to the Amazon list,” Henley said. “We normally don’t have outdoor stations, but we want those workers to be safe and healthy so that they can keep doing that work.

“There are needs that are popping up that we can’t anticipate,” Henley said. “The response fund allows us to make sure parents can get a meal, or the front-line staff that can’t get away. It’s nice to have funds designated for that purpose so that we can meet those needs quickly.”

What can’t be accepted, Henley said, is homemade treats. “We have all the handmade masks that we can use at this point, so we are no longer asking people to make them.”

The Medical Center is humbled and grateful for the generosity of the community. “It’s certainly encouraging to see how much people want to help, and how they are still thinking of other people, no matter how afraid they might be,” Henley said.

“I can’t imagine what it’s like to be a health care worker in this environment,” Rooks said. “They are on the front line fighting the war.

“We have deep respect and admiration for that. Hopefully, these glasses will help somebody along the way.”