ACE Members Support Communities, First Responders, and Healthcare Workers
April 28, 2020

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, our member institutions have found a wide range of ways to respond to the needs of their communities and workers on the front line.

Most visibly, a number of hospitals that are at the center of treating patients with COVID-19 are part of public higher education systems, and university researchers are playing an indispensable role in developing a vaccine and treatment protocols. But from donating equipment and gear to loaning out college space for use by first responders, colleges and universities around the country are working behind the scenes to help their local communities cope during these unprecedented times.

Due to the shortage of masks and personal protective equipment, a number of institutions have donated supplies to fill the gap. The Miami-Dade College medical campus lent 17 its ventilators to the nearby Jackson Memorial Hospital. Triton College staff collected thousands of hospital gowns, masks, gloves, face shields, wipes, hand sanitizer, and other urgently needed supplies to donate to local police and fire departments and hospitals. The University of Southern California donated protective gear to Keck Medicine of USC. And Florida International University (FIU) donated 28 ventilators to local emergency coordinators.

“Making these crucial devices available goes along with our other efforts, which include producing personal protective equipment and providing clinical services at a coronavirus test site," FIU President Mark B. Rosenberg told the Miami Herald.

Some institutions are doing more than just donating supplies—they are donating space. While Quinnipiac University collected personal protective equipment and food to donate to Connecticut health care professionals, they also worked with the Town of Hamden to offer 50 university-owned apartments as housing for first responders who are self-isolating away from their homes. Other institutions that have repurposed their space or are looking to do so include Tufts University, the University of Michigan, Temple University, and Hampshire College.

Hampshire College President Ed Wingenbach noted in an article for the Daily Hampshire Gazette that, even as the college was taking hits due to the health crisis, it is “fundamental to the mission of Hampshire College, and of educational institutions generally, to try to contribute to the health of the communities in which they are situated."

Colleges and universities are even manufacturing supplies to support local hospitals. Researchers in North Carolina State University's Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering machine shop have been working to create masks that use air pressure systems and will be used in hospitals. Over five of Michigan State University's colleges are working in collaboration to 3D-print medical face shields.

Likewise, students and faculty in the Stony Brook University Chemistry Department joined together to produce hand sanitizer for Stony Brook University Hospital and the Long Island State Veteran's Home—both institutions that are caring for COVID-19 patients.

“We are in a traumatic community emergency," said Stony Brook's Interim President Michael Bernstein during a recent recording of the University's “Beyond the Expected" podcast, “and people have come together and said, 'We're going to get this done.' It's quite amazing."

Some institutions are also upping their online resources to support health workers.

Researchers at Stanford University spearheaded a team with scientists from 11 other institutions in designing, a website that consolidates the scientific literature on how to decontaminate and reuse N95 masks for easy access. Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU), in collaboration with Guild Education, Penn Foster, and K12, is also offering free trainings on how to transition to online education for those new to the format, and guidance for frontline workers.

“While our missions have not changed, the world has, and it's important for all of us to come together, do our part, and lift each other up as we all navigate this new reality," said Paul LeBlanc, SNHU President and CEO and ACE Board Chair.

Sometimes the support is more hands-on. University of Minnesota students, Sruthi Shankar and Sara Lederman created Mn CovidSitters, a group of medical students who support healthcare workers by helping them with tasks like babysitting, pet sitting, grocery shopping, and general errands. The 280-strong volunteer group is currently working with 160 healthcare workers and matches volunteers to a family.

Finally, some medical schools have allowed students to graduate early so they can help overburdened hospitals. Institutions offering early graduation include New York University, Columbia Medical School, and Boston University, Harvard University, Tufts University and the University of Massachusetts medical schools.

"I think this is our Dunkirk moment as a country," said Tufts President Tony Monaco in an interview with the Associated Press. “Now is the time to step up and help."