Destiny-Simone Ramjohn and Rob Malone (Courtesy Photos)

By Destiny-Simone Ramjohn, and Rob Malone

Since March, the news media has reported on recurring personal protective equipment (PPE) shortages during the coronavirus pandemic, which have pitted the federal government, state and local governments, and large health systems against each other in an international competition to secure limited medical supplies.  

What is sometimes overlooked in the news coverage of this clash of the healthcare titans is that small healthcare providers and nonprofits often are out of luck in accessing essential safety equipment due to limited availability, high-volume minimum orders and rising costs.  

Recently, the American Medical Association (AMA) sent a letter to the Federal Emergency Management Agency reporting that doctors’ offices outside of big systems have struggled to reopen because they cannot secure PPE.  “Strains on the supply chain for PPE and disinfectant products continue, and they simply are not available from the usual sources our physicians use,” according to the AMA letter.

As leaders in caring for the communities we collectively serve, The Arc of Prince George’s County, a frontline provider of services for Prince George’s County residents living with intellectual and developmental disabilities, and CareFirst BlueCross Blue Shield (CareFirst), the Capital region’s largest not-for-profit health insurer, are working toward a solution together.  

With PPE shortages spiking again – as COVID-19 cases doubled nationally from three million to six million since early July – CareFirst has launched a $5 million, public-private “Care, delivered” initiative, partnering with small healthcare providers and nonprofits to provide PPE at no cost.

In addition to The Arc of Prince George’s County, initial partners include Tuerk House in Baltimore, Bread for the City, Arlington Free Clinic and Cornerstone Montgomery, among the nearly 200 healthcare and social services organizations invited to participate.  These organizations serve individuals living with poverty, people in recovery, individuals with chronic and mental health conditions, and people with disabilities.

CareFirst is distributing 1.6 million gowns, gloves, masks and face shields to community-based organizations, federally qualified health centers and independent primary care providers in the District of Columbia, Maryland and Northern Virginia.

At The Arc of Prince George’s County, our partnership with CareFirst will mean we can increase the safety and protection of more than 350 caregivers and 600 people we support who have intellectual and developmental disabilities. Having PPE can literally make the difference between life and death, as people with disabilities have been shown to experience more adverse effects and higher rates of death from COVID-19.  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, adults with disabilities are three times as likely to have underlying conditions that increase fatality, such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer.

The CareFirst Blue Cross Blue Shield PPE Response Fund is being administered in partnership with the Greater Washington Community Foundation.  The Community Foundation has helped to identify additional PPE recipients and cultivate potential donors.

Healthcare providers on the frontline of this pandemic shouldn’t be made to choose between protecting their own health and serving patients.  They should have the right equipment to stay safe while serving their patients.  PPE certainly is more widely available now than it was in March.  But there are gaps that place our most vulnerable neighbors and their caregivers at risk.

We hope our partnership will inspire others to take action.  And we welcome more providers in the DMV to join us in “Care, delivered” by emailing community@carefirst.com.

Destiny-Simone Ramjohn is CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield’s Vice President for Community Health and Social Impact, and Rob Malone, is Executive Director of The Arc Prince George’s County.

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