Stanford Lends a Hand

From grocery runs to online fundraisers, the Department of Medicine community found ways to help others amid the coronavirus pandemic

It was a busy day in early April 2020 at Stanford’s newly opened drive-through COVID-19 testing site. People were already lined up in their cars outside the Express Care Clinic parking garage, waiting for a nasal swab that would tell them if they had been exposed to the virus.

It was a busy day behind the scenes, too, as practitioners, nurses, assistants, and physicians, all dressed in full protective gear, rushed around the premises administering tests, transporting samples to the lab, and triaging patients.

Thanh Khong, PA-C, a physician assistant who was overseeing testing operations and logistics at the site, noticed that many of his colleagues had been on their feet for hours and looked tired. He went out to buy standing mats, which allowed them to perform their jobs more comfortably, and brought in heaters and a music speaker to keep their energy and spirits high. He made sure they were fed and became known—and beloved—for bringing in banh mi sandwiches for lunch.

Khong’s acts of generosity characterize the entire Department of Medicine’s response to the pandemic. As the country plunged into lockdown, people went to great lengths to ease the burdens of others and find ways to lend their expertise and resources to help those most in need.

Thanh Khong, PA-C (left), noticed that many of his colleagues had been on their feet for hours and looked tired

People were lined up in their cars waiting for a nasal swab

This help took many forms. Residents organized fundraisers to provide meal delivery gift cards to fellow residents working the frontlines in New York City. Nurses coordinated grocery runs to ensure that patients had enough to eat. Physicians kept families afloat during the holiday season. Lab technicians worked around the clock. Patients offered up masks and gloves to drive-through clinic staff when supplies were hard to find. People from the community reached out to see how they could help, even offering up a 3D printer to make face shields. “One amazing thing that we’ve seen throughout the pandemic is people helping each other out on all different levels,” Linda Barman, MD, clinical assistant professor of primary care and population health, explains. “Everyone has gone above and beyond. The whole community came together.”

Delivering Care, and Groceries

Stanford’s CROWN clinic (an acronym for care and respiratory observation of patients with novel coronavirus) sees hundreds of people who have tested positive for COVID-19 each week, many of whom are low income or don’t have adequate health insurance. Barman and other clinic practitioners were worried not only about their patients’ health but also about the heavy burden that a positive COVID-19 diagnosis would put on them and their families.

“A lot of our patients live paycheck to paycheck. When they have coronavirus, they can’t work,” says Barman. “Early on during the pandemic, we realized we needed to ask all of our patients how they were doing and how their families were doing, because COVID-19 impacts everyone.

“We’d ask patients how much food they had at home, and whether they were able to get groceries or go to a food bank,” Barman says. “Many weren’t able to, because their families were sick as well, or because they didn’t have enough money, or because they didn’t have access to the internet and delivery services.”

Linda Barman, MD

So Barman came up with a plan to bring meals and groceries to them. She set up a computer in an exam room that stayed signed in to her Instacart account. If she saw a patient who needed groceries, she would confirm the patient’s home address, head to the computer in the exam room, and order him or her supplies.

Some of Barman’s colleagues would even do the shopping themselves. When Mirella Nguyen, NP, a nurse practitioner, heard that one of her patients, a single mother, was running out of food at home, she took swift action. “Mirella immediately went to the grocery store,” Barman remembers. “When the patient came in the next day for her scheduled chest x-ray and physical exam, Mirella handed her a week’s worth of fresh items.”

Clinic staff also found other ways to lend a hand. During a routine checkup with a new patient, a mother of two who had recently been discharged from the hospital, Barman learned that she didn’t have enough money for Christmas presents. “When I asked how her family was doing, she told me that her kids were disappointed there wouldn’t be Christmas presents this year, but that they all were finally in good health and that was what was important. She had enough money to pay her landlord and buy food, but she had nothing left for gifts. I asked a few more questions about the kids: How old are they, what do they like … and I immediately rushed home and told my own children: We’re playing Santa.”

Barman and her family bought presents and mailed everything to her patient in time for the holidays.

After Christmas, Barman received a call from her patient, who told her just how much her generosity had meant during such a stressful time. “I said that I was glad to help, and that I knew she would have the chance to pay it forward and take care of someone else like this in the future.”

Barman’s prediction came true. Several months later, the patient’s brother showed up at the CROWN clinic after being diagnosed with COVID-19. When Barman asked who was caring for him and helping him with medical supplies and groceries, she was delighted by the answer. “He said it was his sister, my former patient,” Barman recalls. “She was back on her feet, taking care of her brother. She was passing it on.”

Feeding Residents on the Frontlines

In late March 2020, shortly after nationwide shelter-in-place orders took effect, internal medicine chief residents Mita Hoppenfeld, MD, Andrew Moore, MD, and Adrian Castillo, MD went online and set up a GoFundMe campaign called Residents Helping Residents to raise $5,000 for food gift cards to donate to residents in New York hospitals, which at the time was the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Hoppenfeld started the project partly to assuage a feeling of survivor’s guilt. “You get trained in medicine to be a health care provider and to give as much help as you can,” she explains. “I can only imagine the sort of decisions that my colleagues in New York hospitals had to make. I felt very helpless, and I wanted to do something, and I thought, ‘One of the things that always brings me joy is food. I wish I could just make sure that they feed themselves because that’s the first thing that I stop doing when I’m on really busy rotations.’"

A sampling of the thank-yous Stanford residents sent to residents at Montefiore Hospital

Donations and comments came pouring in, as people from all over the country joined together to contribute and show their support.

“I believe in the work these young, dedicated physicians are doing for the people of NYC,” wrote one anonymous contributor.

“Thank you, Stanford internal medicine, for coordinating and thank you to all of our NYC friends for your bravery and hard work,” wrote a group of internal medicine residents from UCSF.

“The world appreciates everything you are doing for us,” another commenter chimed in.

Within days, the chief residents doubled their fundraising goal to $10,000. By the end of the week, they moved their goal even further, to $20,000. The hospitals they supported expanded as well, from Columbia, NYU, and Lenox Hill to “areas that were disproportionately affected because of multiple social determinants of health,” like SUNY Downstate, New York-Presbyterian Queens, and Elmhurst Hospital.

“One of the things that always brings me joy is food. I wish I could just make sure that they feed themselves because that’s the first thing that I stop doing when I’m on really busy rotations."

The chief residents worked with each hospital to see how they wanted to use the money—some opted for restaurant delivery gift cards and coffee, while others used donations for ride share apps to take exhausted doctors home at night.

One hospital specifically requested words of support from Hoppenfeld and her fellow residents. They were happy to oblige, and she and her colleagues sent over a bundle of encouragements.

“I can only imagine what these people are going through, exhausted, giving not just 100% of their physical selves but also their emotional selves, their decision-making selves, constantly,” Hoppenfeld says. “And to be able to give them something small, tangible, but meaningful in a way that says, ‘You’re seen, you’re supported, you’re loved, you’re thanked,’ is huge.”

Revitalizing the Residents Helping Residents Initiative

The initial Residents Helping Residents fundraising effort was so successful that Hoppenfeld and her fellow chief residents revitalized the campaign during the holiday season to raise funds for Second Harvest of Silicon Valley, a local food bank. The new initiative—called Residents Helping Residents of San Mateo and Santa Clara County—raised $10,000 and secured an additional donation of $48,000 from Faculty Connection, a consulting group founded by Department of Medicine faculty members at Duke University and Stanford. “This campaign was another way for us to give back to our community by helping to alleviate the health care crisis that is food insecurity,” Hoppenfeld says.

From California, with Love

Words of support from Stanford Internal Medicine residents to their colleagues in New York

"We are living through times that many generations never see, and you are on the front lines of it. ... We are deeply grateful, inspired, and humbled by your service at this time.”

"Every single one of you exemplifies the type of physician I can only aspire to be and reminds me exactly why I decided and chose to go into the field of medicine in the first place.”

“There are no words to express how much we are all pulling for you, supporting you from afar, afraid for you, feeling for you. ... I know you’re the right people for a job no one should have to do.”