By: Sarah K. Wells, MSN, RN, CEN, CNL @ New Thing Nurse

When we met Sarah Wells, the voice behind the “New Thing Nurse” blog and nurse-coaching website, this spring, we were immediately impressed with her passion for supporting, connecting and empowering nurses. Sarah is an ED nurse based in California, but through her activism she’s created a national network of nurses in her field. During the course of the many conversations she’s had with other nurses throughout the pandemic, Sarah heard firsthand how many of us were struggling in the face of a national PPE supply chain crisis. So, what did she do? She jumped right in and started a sourcing project. We’ll let Sarah tell you how it all came together — but first, we just have to say how honored we are that she is part of the SHIFT community.

It was early March when I first got a text from my emergency department nurse friend in New Jersey that said:

“We are running out of isolation gowns.”

It seemed like such a bizarre message. I have been an emergency nurse for nearly 10 years and in that time, I have been through plenty of disasters and supply chain issues that have affected access to medications and the occasional random piece of equipment, but never related to personal protective equipment (PPE). I have always used what I needed for the patient, doffed and tossed it all in the trash after use.

Dwindling PPE and an unprecedented crisis

This text was also coming at the odd beginning of what would become the most unprecedented time in all of our nursing careers. Stories about COVID-19, a novel coronavirus in China, had just started to reach my area in California. It was a strange time with lots of rumors going around, causing a lot of chatter but not yet creating a great impact on our day-to-day operations.

How quickly things changed. Within days, stories were popping up all over the place about more shortages of PPE — isolation gowns, gloves, hair covering and masks. The masks were the most disturbing as this new coronavirus was thought to be transmitted through respiratory droplets. Everyone was getting nervous. We all wanted to be safe, yet the masks that we needed to protect ourselves while we cared for our increasingly sick patients were soon nowhere to be found.

Now in addition to being a typical emergency nurse — someone who sees a problem and says “I can fix that” — I also am the founder of an organization called New Thing Nurse, a business with a mission of fostering a more supportive and fulfilled nursing world that spreads throughout healthcare and beyond. With that mission, I saw an opportunity to help keep our nurse colleagues safe by activating the best resource that I had — my nursing community.

Nurses coming to the aid of nurses

I started contacting nurses across the United States that I knew from working, nursing school, nurse professional organizations and social media, inquiring about the status of PPE in their facilities as they faced mounting COVID-19 patients. I immediately got feedback that PPE was scarce almost everywhere, but at dire lows in areas that were getting most impacted with COVID-19 patient surges.

That’s why in April, I started the New Thing Nurse PPE Care Package Project, an effort to raise funds, source, acquire and send crucial PPE to our most essential workers — front-line healthcare staff. The project started with a frantic scramble to find N95 and KN95 masks for emergency nurse colleagues and rapidly spread to so much more. With initial funds from my personal accounts that were supplemented by a GoFundMe and then a t-shirt fundraising campaign, the New Thing Nurse PPE Care Package Project raised thousands of dollars to purchase masks and more to send across the country to healthcare workers in need.

From grassroots to cross-country and beyond

This was a truly grassroots campaign. Nurses from around the country donated, purchased our fundraising items or sent me PPE sources, PPE from their own supplies, handmade scrub caps and cloth masks — and ultimately, made the project the success that it has been.

Since April, the New Thing Nurse PPE Care Package Project has been able to send and coordinate over 5,000 PPE item donations to 13 states and Mexico. We sent PPE to nurses in New York City when it was still overwhelmed with COVID-19 cases, to the medical facilities caring for the Navajo Nation in Arizona and New Mexico, to free clinics in South Carolina who care for indigent patients, to healthcare workers in rural areas caring for remote skilled nursing facilities and incarcerated populations, and to Matamoros, Mexico, to a clinic that is the only healthcare available to refugees seeking asylum in the United States.

Nurses and our New Thing Nurse community has come together to help keep over 5,000 faces, heads, hands, and bodies safe during the COVID-19 pandemic.

And we are not done. Unfortunately, the PPE supply chain is still not fixed. Medical staff across the United States continue to face PPE shortages as the COVID-19 crisis continues to worsen. And while some days feel so hard, I take heart in the fact that the nursing and greater community is going to come together to help keep nurses safe.

To learn more about the New Thing Nurse PPE Care Package Project, please visit the New Thing Nurse website.