Why Giving Matters: COVID Silver Linings

How generosity and the caring spirit of the Stanford Medicine community helped sustain health-care workers, patients, and families during the pandemic

With high rates of anxiety, depression, and burnout, the stress and strain of the COVID-19 pandemic on frontline health-care workers and support staff has been tremendous. As they care for patients, they must grapple with their own personal risk of infection, the risk of exposing family members, isolation, and increased exposure to suffering. Some have had to practice or be cross-trained in completely different areas of expertise, carry an increased workload, or constantly learn ever-changing and updated COVID-19 protocols.

Along with several of my surgery peers, we wanted to say a big THANK YOU to the person or group who provided the donation for the resident night shift meals... This has become a bright spot in the night and something we look forward to every evening. We are grateful.

Over the past year, many caring and generous community members and friends of Stanford Medicine have reached out to ask how they could provide philanthropic support to ease the burden for these dedicated health-care heroes.

A fund was set up in early 2020 to direct these gifts toward supporting all individuals involved in Stanford’s COVID-19 response. Called the COVID-19 Clinical Care Fund, it has allowed Stanford Health Care to increase care capacity, create a safer environment, and support health-care providers and related staff to ensure they can effectively assist affected patients and their families. The fund helps provide food, lodging, and other necessities to assist them in carrying out their duties and ensuring their health and well-being—plus it covers additional care if they become ill with COVID-19.

“It’s easy for us to appreciate how the pandemic has exacerbated sources of distress, including less control, greater isolation, and challenges integrating personal and professional life,” says Tait Shanafelt, MD, director of the Stanford WellMD Center and chief wellness officer for Stanford Medicine. Dr. Shanafelt is the first person to fill that role at a U.S. academic medical center, and he co-leads the committee that allocates the donated funds. As an expert in burnout, his role has become more important than ever.

“People are struggling, and they’re exhausted. It’s been a difficult time and a chronic source of stress. Even folks who were weathering things better have become worn out because this has lasted so long,” he says. In addition to the challenges unique to providing care for our patients and communities in this difficult time, many health-care workers have had to simultaneously deal with the challenges experienced by all other workers, such as having to support their children with virtual school and caring for elderly parents.

PHOTOS: courtesy of Stanford Health Care

The outpouring of timely support has been and continues to be a lifeline. The Clinical Care Fund gifts have been instrumental in maintaining the resilience of health-care workers by helping them support their well-being, and providing them with resources, reassurance, and comfort when they need it most to lift their spirits.

By providing things as simple as coffee, breakfast, lunch, late-night snacks, and gift cards, the funds have helped everyone working at Stanford Health Care to endure the pandemic grind. They’ve even enjoyed hot chocolate in “Gratitude Pop-ups,” and fruit baskets delivered to departments.

In addition to supporting health-care workers and related staff—including off-site call center employees and lab techs who do the hard work of vaccine and COVID-19 testing—the COVID-19 Clinical Care Fund has also provided food, beverages, and comfort supplies to patients and their families.

In addition to the gifts made to the Clinical Care Fund, there has also been a sizeable response from the business community. Local restaurants and cafes have provided thousands of meals, beverages, gift cards, and even gelato cups. National companies have provided bottled smoothies, coffee, protein drinks, cupcakes and croissants, and chocolate.

Thank you so much for the gift card. As a Stanford Health Care supply chain lead, I highly appreciate your care and your support for me at this difficult time. I pray that God bless Stanford Health Care as we continue to fight this virus together as a team.

As one example of the many supportive cafes and restaurants, early in the COVID-19 pandemic, Ayesha Thapar, the owner of Ettan, a Cal-Indian cuisine restaurant, reached out to offer meals to frontline workers at Stanford Hospital. Ayesha had just opened her restaurant in downtown Palo Alto two months before the shelter-in-place order, however she still wanted to help out. During the months of April and May, Ettan provided a total of 1,200 meals to a very grateful staff.

One couple, who chose to make their gift anonymously, wanted to offer acknowledgement and thanks to staff members who were working at the hospital during the 24-hour period on New Year’s Day. Coupons were distributed to 4,000 pleasantly surprised Stanford Health Care employees to use for a meal at the Stanford Hospital cafeteria—one manager in the Emergency Department said he was ecstatic for the team members working that day. In return, the anonymous couple expressed their appreciation.

“Thank you from the bottom of our hearts to all of the Stanford Hospital workers for their tireless commitment to our community,” they said.

The CARES Act passed by Congress encourages donors to give to charity during the COVID-19 pandemic, and we are grateful that these gifts have also supported our efforts.