Department Committees and Utah AHEC Organize Mask Donations for Community Health Workers
May 4, 2020 9:00 AM
Members of the Department of Family and Preventive Medicine Community Engagement and Diversity and Inclusion Committees, as well as Utah Area Health Education Center (Utah AHEC), have spearheaded an initiative to provide cloth masks for community health workers serving the state’s most vulnerable populations.
“One Saturday in mid-March, I received a text from a community health worker that asked if I had any home-made masks, as she needed them for the elders in her community,” says Ivette Lopez, PhD, Deputy-Director for the Utah AHEC. “That led me to realize that while there were volunteers providing masks for workers in clinical settings, few people were paying attention to the protective needs of community health workers, who operate outside of clinical settings. I worried about whether they had access to the masks they needed to keep themselves, their families, and their communities safe.”
That worry led Dr. Lopez and her associate Tatiana Allen, Program Manager of Utah AHEC, to research how to provide the needed masks quickly, efficiently, and cheaply to those working on the front lines of underserved communities. They familiarized themselves with the CDC’s home-sewn mask pattern and researched which fabrics and elastics met the CDC’s safety standards for masks. Then, they sent out a call for volunteers to help piece and sew the masks together.
The call for volunteers started relatively small, but soon word spread as those participating recruited their friends and family to the effort. “This willingness to help is common in Utah communities,” says Dr. Lopez. “We just put out the queries, and the response has been touching.”
The masks created by the volunteers are donated by the group to a relatively small but enormously important group of health workers: community health workers that serve minority populations in Utah. These workers are especially vulnerable because the populations they serve may have not yet received messaging about the need for protective masks, which places the community health worker at greater risk. By having a ready supply of no-cost protective masks, community health workers can provide themselves and their community members a higher level of safety without depleting their already strained resources. “As community health workers wear and distribute the masks among the most vulnerable, like elders,” says Tatiana Allen, “they are also educating the public on how they must wear a mask all the time outside their home.”
To date, the group has donated over 750 masks, which have gone to community health workers and high-risk individuals such as cancer survivors and elders in these communities. Despite the success of the program, for Dr. Lopez the effort pales in comparison to the brave work being done by community health workers across the state. “We wanted to do what we could to help fill the resource gap for the selfless community health workers who work with minority and high-risk persons in the state, many of whom already suffer from conditions linked to health disparities.”
If you would like to join to the effort by making masks at home, please contact Tatiana Allen at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.