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Natural Awakenings Austin

Helping the Helpers

By Sheila Julson

Normally, Candice Escobedo would be working on the front lines right alongside her fellow nurses during the COVID-19 crisis. However, as a recent nurse practitioner graduate, she was looking for a collaborative physician. “Texas state law requires that nurse practitioners must work with a delegating physician,” shares Escobedo, a former pediatric oncology nurse, who notes that because many physicians and hospitals have liability concerns during the pandemic, nurse practitioners are unwillingly left on the sidelines, despite having skills and a desire to help. 

Escobedo soon realized there was something she could do behind the scenes. Through Texas COVID-19 Collaborative (TCC), the organization she formed in early March, Escobedo compiled a platform for collaboration among Austin area businesses and individuals to support healthcare workers during the pandemic. TCC, through, helps source personal protective equipment (PPE), and health and wellness resources for fellow healthcare providers.

This passionate healthcare professional was inspired to form TCC after seeing an emotional Facebook post from the daughter of a nurse who had ovarian cancer. “Her daughter was upset because she can’t talk to mom because she was quarantined,” Escobedo reflects. “It sent me over the edge to see that child’s desperation and fear for her mom. There’s that nurse, on the frontlines, immune suppressed, and wearing the equivalent of tissue over her face because there’s no PPE available.”

Still in its infancy, TCC has many moving parts, and the collaboration has grown exponentially as Escobedo spends countless hours on the phone and on social media, marrying ideas with the people that can bring plans to fruition. So far, there’s been no shortage of people willing to come together to help those in the healthcare industry. Case Erickson, owner of Trucklandia, Austin’s annual food truck festival, along with author Lesa Rosseco of KeepAustin’ Eatin’ blog, are raising funds to allow hospitals to let food trucks come directly on site to serve healthcare workers.

Three separate initiatives spun off from Keep Austin Eatin’s efforts to feed healthcare workers; Texans Stronger Together raises funds to give 100 percent to local restaurants while feeding healthcare workers; Dell Children’s is raising money to give back to local restaurants to feed their healthcare workers on Food Truck Fridays; and St. David’s Initiative allows Austinites to adopt branches of hospitals and is raising money to give to restaurants to feed healthcare workers.  

Cheryl Cunningham, owner of the food truck DFG Noodles, heard about TCC through a friend and called Escobedo to get more information about how she could put her contacts together to help workers in the medical field. Cunningham, like Escobedo, was moved by the stories of how medical workers are lacking PPE, and how some of those worker’s voices were being suppressed by management. “That was really alarming to me, especially during a time when we should be protecting our frontline workers. Without them, what do we have?” asks Cunningham, who learned that one of the biggest obstacles is a breakdown of communication among the healthcare workers and needed goods and services, making it difficult to efficiently connect with each other. “They were all dependent on one person connecting to another by email or phone, one referral at a time, which is a very long process.”

Cunningham approached DevTech, a cloud-based technology development company, and came up with the idea of connecting all essential parties on one platform to eliminate referral-based communication. DevTech willingly placed priority to this project and worked nonstop in efforts to contribute to their community., the platform that arose from this collaboration, allows the medical community to express their concerns and needs to find solutions. Users can communicate on the same platform all at once, which eliminates the need to rely on word-of-mouth contacts.

“It also prevents any shady stuff or mismanagement of our frontline people. It gives nurses and everyone in the medical field a voice,” says Cunningham, who along with Escobedo, envisions the Voice Out Global platform to be a one-stop shop for learning about multiple public, private, nonprofit and government initiatives related to the pandemic.

“My goal is to keep the platform going to help solve problems, while plugging along and keeping my own business alive,” says Cunningham, who hopes to launch the free Voice Out platform in other countries.

Escobedo adds that Airbnb has stepped up and is looking to partner with area real estate agents to provide housing for medical professionals coming from out of town to work in Austin hospitals. She also credits Lily Cabrera of Wellmarkt for providing a platform to house holistic wellness providers, many of which are offering mental wellness services to healthcare workers pro bono. Escobedo says the Austin Wellness Collaborative has also shown tremendous support.

Personal Protective Equipment Desperately Needed

The woeful shortage of PPE continues to hinder and endanger doctors, nurses, medical assistants, janitorial staff, clerks and others trying to serve sick Americans during the pandemic. Escobedo joined with registered nurse Secily Krehbiel, owner of ATX Medical Devices, to direct source from China needed supplies such as gowns, gloves and masks, thus skipping middlemen in the supply chain and leading to shorter lead times and controlled costs.

“Why can’t we get PPE? It is being made, but why can’t we get it here?” Escobedo asks. “There are so many different links in the supply chain—the importer, a forwarding company, the purchasing group that hospitals use—there are so many steps, and that’s not efficient right now.”

Manufacturers are also stepping up to make needed items. Escobedo says that Anthony Budd, a technology consultant with Apple, has formed Ideaa, in efforts to create a 3-D printer supplier database to donate medical equipment. Escobedo says that Leahy Industries 3-D Printing & ProductDesign has also used 3-D printing technology to make masks.

After reading an article in which Virgin Airlines founder Richard Branson posted a picture of a mechanical design that can be used to help inflate lungs until a standard ventilator becomes available, Escobedo connected appropriate professionals at the University of Texas at Austin, with SA Industries, a manufacturer where Escobedo’s husband also works, to manufacture the part.

As the TCC network quickly grows, Escobedo sees potential to expand those platforms to serve nonprofits and other entities caring for people during the pandemic. Although the mission initially began with allocating resources for fellow healthcare members, it has grown to include more services. The main focus has shifted to, where PPE can be purchased for donation by nonprofit organizations and delivered to the organization of their choice. Nurses for Nurses serves as a resource to healthcare professionals during this pandemic.

“This has shown what happens when everyone is coming together during a time when one would feel really isolated,” Escobedo concludes. “Everything has been happening at sonic speed, and everybody realizes that we are all part of this collective whole—the grocery store stocker, the janitor at the hospital, the tech expert sitting at the computer—we all fundamentally affect each other’s lives. This collaboration has shown me that in such a dark time, there is always light.”

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