Stanford Health Care’s unsung heroes inspire gift to aid coronavirus response

Laura Arrillaga-Andreessen and Marc Andreessen have donated $2 million to Stanford Health Care to defray unexpected costs of the response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Marc Andreessen and Laura Arrillaga-Andreessen made an unrestricted gift of $2 million to Stanford Health Care to help with unexpected costs incurred in the fight against COVID-19.
Eliot Holtzman

As the pressure of a global pandemic mounts, the toll on health care workers rises — from those who respond to incoming calls from patients and community members to those responsible for feeding health care workers, disposing of biomedical waste and performing the laboratory work of testing thousands of patient samples each week. 

“We’ve been inundated with calls,” said Eric Escobedo-Wu, RN, MS. He directs Stanford Health Care Clinical Advice Services, which fields all incoming clinical calls to the organization. A team of about 80 nurses, managers and patient care assistants are responsible for fielding all the clinically related phone calls at Stanford Health Care — around 1,000 per day under normal circumstances. But that volume has been climbing steadily. 

Recently, the team has averaged around 2,000 per day — and 8,000 from March 20-22. In the past, callers typically asked questions about medications or post-surgical care, or expressed concerns about symptoms ranging from pain to infection to fever. Now, they’re nearly all about COVID-19. 

“People are concerned about possible symptoms of COVID-19, or even just expressing fear about the disease,” Escobedo-Wu said. In turn, he and his team are brainstorming ways to maximize their efficiency while also supporting one another and staying safe.

‘Going to bat in every possible way’

“During the past four weeks the entire team has been going to bat in every possible way, whether it be by wiping down our workspaces, bringing in fruit or sharing food from a safe distance. It’s been very challenging, mentally, physically and emotionally,” Escobedo-Wu said. “We’ve implemented a buddy system, and we check in with our team members multiple times a day to gauge how we are handling things. We’re grateful that the hospital leadership has been very supportive, and we all pull together as a team.”

In honor of the work of the many employees like Escobedo-Wu and his colleagues, Laura Arrillaga-Andreessen and Marc Andreessen recently made an unrestricted gift of $2 million to Stanford Health Care. 

“We are humbled to support the heroic efforts of countless people at the hospital, from the patient registration and valet parking teams to the housekeepers and the food service workers. These individuals, along with our doctors, nurses and technicians, risk their own health and lives every day to provide care to the rapidly growing infected population,” Arrillaga-Andreessen said. “We hope this gift inspires everyone who is able to consider contributing to the vast and unexpected expenses incurred by the hospital throughout this crisis.”

To defray unexpected costs

The couple wants the gift to help with the unexpected costs around the fight against COVID-19, which could include the purchase of more personal protective equipment for workers and additional ventilators, and the retrofit of existing spaces to house additional intensive care beds. They are longtime supporters of the hospital who made the naming gift for the Marc and Laura Andreessen Emergency Department in 2007.

Michael Scott is one of the many staff members working behind the scenes at Stanford Health Care during the COVID-19 outbreak.  
Steve Fisch

“These are unprecedented times,” said Stanford Health Care President and CEO David Entwistle, “and this generous gift will help Stanford Health Care to respond quickly to urgent needs as we work to support the heroes of this crisis — not just the doctors and nurses but also the many people working tirelessly behind the scenes to ensure we can provide the best possible care for our patients and our community.”

One of those working behind the scenes is Michael Scott. He is a specialist with Stanford Health Care Environmental Services. It’s Scott’s job to run a high-pressure, high-temperature machine called an autoclave to decontaminate biomedical materials and trash left behind when a patient leaves the hospital, including some items that are potentially contaminated with the virus that causes COVID-19. His 13-year history on the environmental services team has made him a kind of mentor to his co-workers, who are pulling together to safely collect and dispose of hospital waste. 

“I’ve seen pretty much everything,” Scott said. “But with this disease it’s a little different because we know there is no cure yet. So this is kind of an eye-opener. I remind people to treat every container as if it’s from a COVID patient. People are a little bit on edge.”

‘An emotional experience’

An urgent need to ramp up access to COVID-19 tests for physicians and patients recently caused a job shift for off-site laboratory operations manager Bing Hu. Three weeks ago, Hu was reassigned to work as a project manager in the Stanford Clinical Virology Laboratory to help them ramp up COVID-19 testing capabilities. Although laboratory director Benjamin Pinsky, MD, PhD, had developed one of the first private tests for the virus, the researchers were hampered by dwindling supplies.

“I started on March 16, and we immediately began working with procurement, management and operations strategy to operationalize many new instruments and workflows, organize supply needs and manage shortage,” Hu said. “The next two weeks were amazing as I watched researchers prepare homemade transport media for sample swabs from suspected cases and saw RNA extraction kits and reagents pour in from other labs across campus or local biotechnology companies.”

Clinical scientists from other Stanford laboratories volunteered to help the virology laboratory process a rapidly increasing number of tests and leadership helped to procure additional equipment from vendors. 

“It was an emotional experience to see firsthand how hard people were working and to witness the creativity with which they approached each challenge,” Hu said. “If I weren’t a member of this team I would have never believed it was possible.”

Bing Hu, left, an off-site laboratory operations manager, was recently reassigned to work as a project manager in the Stanford Clinical Virology Laboratory to help them ramp up COVID-19 testing capabilities. Toukason "Vicky" Reuangroundeth, right, is a lab assistant.
Steve Fisch

During the race to increase testing availability, managers and Stanford Health Care leadership worked to encourage the team and recognize the work they were doing. They provided food for the researchers and technicians, and everyone pitched in.

“Everyone is taking extra assignments above and beyond their normal routine,” Hu said. “Although we’re all thinking about COVID-19, it’s important to remember that all the other testing normally provided by the laboratory to help patients with other needs still has to go on. One day, I saw one of our medical directors of pathology personally preparing samples for testing. And our increased output leads to increases in the workload of others, including those in the docks receiving shipments and also the housekeepers who remove packaging from all of the daily shipments.”

“This unprecedented pandemic deeply impacts all of us,” Arrillaga-Andreessen said. “Stanford Health Care serves the entire Silicon Valley community, and we are honored to support and express our gratitude to these tireless workers for their extraordinary efforts. Everyone serving and actualizing Stanford Health Care’s mission of healing embodies the selfless, caring and compassionate qualities of true humanitarian leaders.”

“This has been a phenomenal experience,” Escobedo-Wu said. “I was an army nurse, and it has been remarkable to see everyone coming together to just do their part. I hear a lot of comments like, ‘We’re so exhausted, this is hard, but it feels so good to be able to provide care for so many people, not just at Stanford but throughout the community.’ Our entire department is doing good for the greater good, and that’s a very nice thing to be a part of.”

The university has created a special COVID-19 relief site to support clinical care and research at covid19medfund.stanford.edu.



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