“The COVID-19 pandemic has certainly taken a toll on the whole world,” says Gloria Tsan, MD, FACEP, an emergency medicine physician with Mid-Atlantic Emergency Medical Associates (MEMA), and “I have witnessed both the atrocities this pandemic has caused, as well as how compassionate and innovative our Charlotte community has been in supporting our healthcare workers.” Dr. Tsan completed her residency in 2008 from Maimonides Medical Center in Brooklyn, NY but found her way to Charlotte soon thereafter working with MEMA, which provides emergency and acute medical care throughout the Charlotte and Piedmont area.
Closely watching the virus spread confusion and devastation throughout China, Europe, and specifically across Italy, Dr. Tsan became deeply affected by the stories she heard about how many health care workers were getting sick and dying due to the lack of personal protection equipment (PPE). Hearing how Italy was pulling recent medical school graduates to work in the hospitals since they had lost so many staff to the pandemic was something that stuck with her.
As the pandemic hit the east and west coasts of the United States she became fearful. “Our healthcare system was clearly overwhelmed and unprepared for the pandemic,” said Tsan. In March 2020, she began sharing with her father, a retired physician, how disheartened she had become and was nervous about what the future would bring for her patients, families, healthcare workers, and herself.
Among the hospitals hit the hardest were those in Brooklyn where Dr. Tsan completed her residency training. Several of her colleagues, nurses, and friends were struggling to take care of patients as well as struggling with their own health. One of the best paramedics she had known for 14 years died from COVID-19 along with other colleagues from around the country, and that hit home for her. She felt helpless, worried, and anxious about the lack of PPE.
Dr. Tsan’s family in Taiwan and Australia were also concerned and they sent medical supplies from abroad. Though this virus is not bad for most of the general healthy population, it is having a more serious effect on even young and healthy healthcare workers mostly because healthcare workers are being exposed to it every day from both the worried well and the critically ill. Dr. Tsan takes care of the critically ill that come into the hospital. If a patient is in respiratory failure and needs intubation, it is her job to carry this procedure out, and it is the most dangerous time for transmission of the virus.
With her work in the emergency department, her spouse’s work as an ER nurse, and her son’s history of asthma, she was concerned, so she updated her will and sent her son to be with other family members to protect him. Dr. Tsan decided to take a stand about the lack of PPE and was not alone in her worries. A good neighbor, Dr. Sheila Natarajan, a Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Physician, was also concerned for those on the frontlines. Quickly, along with other influential Charlotteans, they established CLTgivePPE, a grassroots movement in Charlotte where they worked tirelessly reaching out to the community to collect PPE, medical supplies, raise money, and awareness for this crucial cause.
In April, Dr. Tsan was interviewed by WCNC, a local news station, to highlight the healthcare communities’ concerns and bring attention to the CLTgivePPE movement. CLTgivePPE was able to influence state politicians to promote this campaign as they partnered with local media stations to support this movement. They asked the surrounding community members to look for PPE such as construction N95 masks, eye goggles, and sterile gloves in their garages, or donate money to help purchase and manufacture PPE. Whatever could be done and whoever could help, the organization pursued every avenue to deliver medical supplies to those in need. Several Charlotte businesses even shifted their production from consumer goods to making supplies needed for protecting health care workers such as isolation gowns and hand sanitizer.
Dr. Tsan made it her own personal goal to obtain critical PPE not only for MEMA providers, but also for all clinically facing ED staff including nurses, ECG techs, radiology techs, pharmacists, and hospital public safety officers. She was able to do this through a partnership created with Charlotte Latin High School/ Charlotte MEDI and NASCAR. She received some of the first 3D printed face shields that were available and hand-delivered them throughout the Charlotte-area Novant Health locations. This helped to unify the ED staff and made the statement that everyone should be protected.
CLTgivePPE even organized a quarantine social distanced virtual race called the “COVID-19 Miler” where participants could walk, run, or bike for 19 miles over the course of 1 week. Dr. Tsan made video clips of doctors and nurses cheering on the runners, thanking them for their support which was featured on the news late in April. People from all over the world joined to support the cause and raised over $46,000 for PPE.
“Prior to this pandemic, I only had to worry about taking care of patients in the ER. Now, I worry about protecting myself and my family in addition to taking care of patients. However, throughout this pandemic, I have found our Charlotte community to be resilient, unified, innovative, and dedicated to supporting our healthcare workers so we could continue to remain safe, healthy, and available to work in the hospital to take care of our community members.”
“Watching this organization grow so quickly from the ground up and completely supported by Charlotte and surrounding community has been humbling,” says Dr. Tsan. CLTgivePPE helped organize partnerships with Goodwill Industries, Lowes, Novant Health, Atrium Health, and the Mecklenburg Health Department. Over $95,000 was raised for PPE and there were more than 500 “sewing angels” and volunteers, along with countless donations that were distributed to private practices, ERs, community outreach programs, and city organizations.
When Dr. Tsan was asked about the future of the pandemic and the vaccine, she shares, “I was so excited to be amongst the first at Novant Health to receive the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine. I received the vaccine on Dec 17, 2020, with our community cheering on the healthcare workers. I will never forget that day because it the first time in history a vaccine was developed this quickly to fight a pandemic. It gives me some hope that soon the morbidity and mortality from COVID-19 will decrease and become under control, and that I will one day be able to visit and hug my mother and father again.”