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UW-Eau Claire health care programs donate personal protective equipment to area facilities

| Denise Olson

Along with the many stories of Blugolds researching, studying and working in the field to battle the COVID-19 pandemic, leaders across campus saw another way to make a difference in the fight against this virus, a difference right here in the Chippewa Valley community.

It turns out that several programs on campus had surplus personal protection equipment, the equipment essential to keeping front-line workers safe from the virus — supplies in short supply throughout the nation. UW-Eau Claire Continuing Education and nursing education programs make regular use of these items, and stepped up to donate campus supplies that will not be needed while face-to-face classes and clinical programs are canceled. Thousands of masks, respirators and gloves, along with gowns, disinfecting wipes and hand sanitizer, have been donated to various area medical facilities, including:

  • Mayo Clinic Health System
  • HSHS Sacred Heart Hospital
  • Chippewa Valley Free Clinic
  • Black River Falls Memorial Hospital
  • Marshfield Clinic, Eau Claire
  • The Health Office Co. S.C.

When a flagship health care program of UW-Eau Claire's Continuing Education department had to cancel the April clinical due to COVID-19, it was a blow to both the program staff and the hundreds of nurses from across the country who participate, but the valuable and hard-to-find medical supplies for the Foot and Nail Care: Education for Nurses program will be put to good use in the community.

Kayla Piper, the program manager, said that because of the size of this biannual event, some large numbers of PPE were available to donate. This well-attended event typically serves 700 area seniors, and is now scheduled for its next clinical to take place Oct. 20-23. See event details.

"We donated N95 masks (high filtration level masks for health care workers) and gloves, also dropped off two boxes of masks to the UWEC custodial staff, as they too were low on their supply," Piper said.

Adam Coolidge and daughter Hannah

Adam Coolidge, Continuing Education program associate, and his daughter, Hannah, helped to load up protective equipment supplies to donate to area clinics and hospitals.

Adam Coolidge, CE program associate, took care of gathering the supplies on campus and delivering to area clinics and hospitals. Coolidge was able to let his children help him pack up the supplies, seeing firsthand how the entire community is coming together to tackle this emergency.

"We were able to donate 100 masks and 300 gloves to the emergency rooms at Mayo Luther and HSHS Sacred Heart, as well as 40 masks to our Blugold custodial staff," Coolidge said. "My kids really enjoyed being able to help out, while we practiced social distancing. Although they’re young and did not enter the medical facilities, they know that something very serious is happening in the world right now, and they were happy to know that these supplies would help people at the hospitals to be safe."

Coolidge, while calling himself just the "delivery guy" is proud to be part of a campus program and community whose mission can be so perfectly demonstrated in times of need like these.

"The foot and nail care event draws nurses from around the country to Eau Claire to gain this specialized care education, while providing free needed foot care to our vulnerable and elderly community members," he said. "With the COVID-19 situation, we obviously had to cancel our clinical for April, but Kayla Piper was generous enough to donate the supplies that we had ordered to help our local health care workers. The mission of our Continuing Education office is to connect campus and community, so I think donations like this are in the spirit of what we do every day."

Nurses helping nurses

The College of Nursing and Health Sciences also keeps a running supply of the PPE items for student and instructor use during clinical and outreach events, and several faculty members and staff donated their program surplus PPE to area health care providers.

The lion's share of these items, thousands of masks and gloves, went to the major medical centers listed above, but smaller and equally impactful collections of items were donated to smaller independent and nonprofit clinics in the area, all of whom were thrilled to be recipients of these items crucial to the safety of patients and providers.

One such recipient of PPE was Dr. Sue Peck, a Blugold alumna and professor emerita of nursing. Peck is a nurse practitioner using primarily integrative therapies to treat patients with long-term chronic illness who have not responded to mainstream treatments. Her practice, the Health Office Co. in Eau Claire is a service corporation that the Eau Claire City-County Health Department has deemed essential and is still operating and serving patients during the "Safer at Home" state orders.  

"I truly needed the gloves and N95 masks that the nursing department shared with me," Peck said. "If we are to keep working and serving our patients but don't have the protective gear, how do we keep ourselves well? Some patients choose to wear a mask during their visit as extra protection for themselves and others. We can now maintain safety in my clinic and I am very grateful."

Associate professor of nursing and nurse practitioner Lisa Schiller has a connection to another essential care provider in the area, and was grateful to have extra stock of N95 masks to provide them. 

"As a board member of the Chippewa Valley Free Clinic, I happened to know that they had no N95 masks, so I brought them a box of the respirators," Schiller said. "A student had donated them to our program, and we had planned to use them for a clinical working with immigrant farm workers where we provide health education and screenings. The free clinic staff were very grateful to receive them."

Blugolds across campus and in our community will continue seeking ways to slow the spread of COVID-19 and to help minimize the risks to our front-line health care providers near and far. Along with staying home at this time, you too can donate unused and unexpired PPE you may have to the area facilities named in this article.

Top photo caption: Adam Coolidge, program associate in Continuing Education, enlisted the help of his children, Hannah and Josh (pictured at top), in loading up his vehicle with personal protective equipment that he later delivered to area hospitals.