Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) has compounded the hardships for medical practices and hindered their ability to provide care for Californians. To alleviate the strain on practices and improve patient access to care, the California Medical Association (CMA) mobilized with its local county medical societies, the state of California and Altais to bring more than 40 million pieces of PPE—including medical-grade masks, gloves and gowns—to physicians free of charge, so that they can safely provide care for California residents.
From the beginning, the need was urgent, and the demand was clear. CMA jumped into action, reaching out to California’s Office of Emergency Services to see what it would take to quickly get PPE into the hands of physicians. The result was an unprecedented project—in both scale and complexity—requiring an exceptional level of logistical planning, execution and collaboration between CMA, local county medical societies and several logistical partners.
This was an entirely new operation for CMA, setting up a statewide distribution system for essential equipment that the state of California was struggling to get into the hands of physicians who desperately needed it. The CMA team, led by Mike Steenburgh—vice president of membership, marketing and component relations—got to work, rallying county medical societies and reaching out to Pride Industries, a Roseville-based non-profit that specializes in supply-chain management. Together, they established a statewide distribution network that took materials from state warehouses, repackaged them into individual kits for medical practices and loaded the material on trucks to be distributed at dozens of drive-through events across the state—sponsored by health care services company Altais.
The demand for the product was overwhelming. Within days of reaching out to physicians across the state, nearly 10,000 physician practices signed up to secure free PPE. To fulfill these requests, CMA and its component medical societies embarked on a three-week-long series of traveling distribution events to put PPE directly into the hands of physicians.
On Monday, July 27, 2020, the PPE distribution events kicked off at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena. Staff arrived just after sunrise to scope out, plan and unload the dozens of pallets of PPE and equipment necessary to ensure a safe and effective drive-through event. Soon after, volunteers began to arrive onsite to help complete set up. Hours before the events even began, cars started lining up by the dozens as physicians who had been up against insurmountable supply chain issues could hardly believe there would be enough PPE to fulfill the need.
Each box distributed included 1,600 nitrile examination gloves, 320 N95 respirators, 90 isolation gowns, 40 face shields and 800 surgical masks. In addition to a box of PPE, physicians were given a 20-bottle case of 500ml hand sanitizers, when available.
Although the thousands of PPE kits will not permanently solve PPE issues for medical practices, the infusion of a roughly two-month supply of masks, gloves and gowns was welcome relief for thousands of physicians who simply could not secure the equipment they needed through traditional channels.
Between July 27 and August 13, CMA and county society staff and over 1,000 volunteers from networks of friends, family, and local schools and universities came together to execute a campaign that had a profound impact on physicians and patients across the state.
Nearly 10,000 boxes of PPE were handed out at drive-through distribution events, and more than 6,600 boxes were directly shipped to practices who needed equipment but could not attend their local events.
Event teams worked tirelessly in an assembly-line fashion checking reservations, guiding traffic, loading PPE and thanking physicians for their hard work. At roughly 45 lb. for a box of PPE, volunteers loaded nearly half a million pounds into physicians’ cars over three weeks, sometimes loading for a near full eight-hour day in 100+ degree weather.
When asked what this means to them, time and time again physicians relayed the hardship of trying to scour the internet for PPE, often paying exorbitant prices for miniscule amounts, if they can even find it, just to keep enough on hand to stay open on a day-to-day basis. “Amazing,” “necessary” and “grateful” were among the words that resounded from event to event.
CMA and its component medical societies continue to advocate for more resources for our state’s physicians.
“To say that physicians and health care are essential at this time is an understatement, and PPE is an essential part of their ability to administer care,” said CMA President Peter N. Bretan, Jr., M.D. “CMA and its county medical societies are proud to work with the state to ensure that physicians of California can keep their practices open, and keep themselves and their patients safe.”
CMA and its component medical societies remain committed to distributing PPE across the state. Remaining surplus is being shared with medical groups who did not qualify under the parameters of the initial program—which was limited to practices with fewer than 50 providers—and are struggling with securing adequate PPE supplies or experiencing financial hardship because of the increasing costs of PPE. Interested groups can contact CMA at email@example.com to learn more.