April 07, 2020

COVID-19 response: Medical students helping to manage, inventory donated PPE items

Out of their clinical rotations and physical classrooms, students have been supporting the health system’s COVID-19 response in any way they can

UMMS students Quintin Solano (left) and Alex Reardon help inventory donated PPE at the U-M North Campus Research Complex

UMMS students Quintin Solano (left) and Alex Reardon help inventory donated PPE at the U-M North Campus Research Complex

Gloves, masks, and face shields. Gowns and shoe covers. Household cleaners and hand sanitizers. As the community answered Michigan Medicine’s call for donated personal protective equipment (PPE) in the face of a COVID-19 patient surge, a new challenge emerged.

Who was going to inventory and organize it all?

“This is unprecedented and requires a lot of effort to go through the stock, count it, and sort it. Some of the product is packaged not even in English, so it’s labor intensive,” said Corrie Pennington-Block, a Michigan Medicine engineering project lead who is leading the logistics behind the PPE supply drive. “We could not do this without the medical students. They have truly stepped up.”

Out of their clinical rotations and physical classrooms, U-M medical students have been supporting the health system’s COVID-19 response in any way they can. A student-driven M-Response Corps has orchestrated group efforts, doing everything from triaging calls coming into the Michigan Medicine COVID hotline to providing childcare services to some of the front-line healthcare workers managing the growing numbers of COVID-19 patients in the hospital. Led by a group of student co-directors, under the direction of Associate Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology Deborah R. Berman, M.D., the M-Response Corps is working to connect the student volunteers to areas in the hospital that need help addressing the anticipated surge of COVID-19 patients.

“I’m very proud of our medical students who are rising to help us meet this unprecedented challenge,” Berman said. “I want my colleagues across the organization to reach out to me if they have a project they believe our student-led M-Response Corps can assist with.”

Among the biggest jobs: inventorying the hundreds of thousands of PPE and other items collected through the institution’s donation drop-off site at the North Campus Research Complex, which has been collecting items nearly every day since March 21. Items have come from individuals and groups. Construction crews have donated masks. Local labs and clinics that have slowed or shut down entirely have donated gear. One of the automakers in Detroit delivered thousands of plastic face shields.

“We’ve got a huge room, arranged in lanes — gloves, face shields, masks and so on. It looks a like warehouse in a large cafeteria,” said second-year student Quintin Solano, who is leading aspects of the effort. “Just a few days in, we’d already taken up about two-thirds of this huge room. It has been amazing to see the community come together.”

Job number one is to work with Michigan Medicine supply chain colleagues to check that the items donated are equivalent in quality to those products regularly used at the hospital and thus appropriate for use. Once the items have been appropriately tiered, the students count and organize the materials for delivery to the hospital, as needed.

“We have 10 different production lanes across the various type of products we asked for. The amount of effort required is like working on a manufacturing line,” said Pennington-Block. “The students have taken over with such enthusiasm and professionalism. They are truly motivated to contribute during this crisis and their efforts are going to make a big difference in the coming weeks for our providers fighting this pandemic.”

The donation site remains open Mondays through Saturdays from noon to 5 p.m. at loading dock 90 of U-M's North Campus Research Complex, near the corner of Huron Parkway and Plymouth Road in Ann Arbor. Learn more about what items to donate here. For as long as the donations keep coming in, the student teams will be on hand to help receive and sort them.

“This is why I am in medicine, to be helpful and to be part of the community,” Solano said. “As a medical student, student I’m here to support and do anything and everything I can to help our colleagues on the front lines.”

Story by Craig McCool, Communications Manager, Global REACH