Supporting frontline heroes through Heluna Health’s COVID-19 Response Fund

In March 2020, when COVID-19 began to sweep across the United States, Heluna Health put out a call to our public health network to support a COVID-19 Response Fund. Our community not only answered this call, they took immediate action. Since March, colleagues and donors from across our national network responded to this crisis by helping us meet immediate and critical needs in the hardest hit communities that we collectively serve with our more than 500 partner programs and initiatives. Hundreds of our Heluna Health team members, clients, and community partners took heroic action–working on the front lines of this pandemic, serving some of our most vulnerable populations.

In just one month, Heluna Health’s COVID-19 Response Fund raised nearly $1,017,000 to fill critical gaps in our public health infrastructure. The funding has helped to directly support those whose lives have been impacted by this public health crisis. Because of the immense generosity of our donors, we’ve been able to administer over 30,000 additional COVID-19 tests in congregate settings, such as skilled nursing facilities, prisons, and jails in Los Angeles County; provide more than 52,000 pieces of personal protective equipment (PPE) to frontline workers who needed it most; and distribute 1,200 gift cards for food and emergency supplies to 600 families in need. Heluna Health’s long history and track record as a leader in supporting the population health ecosystem positioned us to quickly and efficiently deploy a broad range of resources to address critical public health needs during this unique time of uncertainty.

A high-impact partnership

In order to maximize charitable dollars during this crisis, Flu Lab, an organization committed to addressing pandemic threats, joined forces with Heluna Health and invested $1M in our response fund campaign. Their commitment to addressing urgent needs during this pandemic has had an immediate impact—filling gaps in testing, PPE distribution and emergency support that otherwise would not have been possible.

“COVID-19 is stretching the limits of our healthcare system, our public health infrastructure, and the capacity of vital service providers across California. Heluna Health’s comprehensive approach to community health has been instrumental to the pandemic response,” said Casey Wright, CEO of Flu Lab. “Strong public health response at the local level is essential for resilient and healthy communities, and Flu Lab is proud to support healthcare personnel, frontline workers, public health leadership, and vulnerable people throughout our state.”

Meet Mr. Earle

One of the frontline heroes whose work has been supported by Heluna Health’s COVID-19 Response Fund, in collaboration with Flu Lab and other donors, is long-time community advocate, David Earle. Mr. Earle is the program coordinator at Skid Row Development Corporation, a nonprofit agency that works to improve the lives of homeless and low-income residents of Skid Row in downtown Los Angeles, California. Skid Row holds the largest concentration of unhoused people in Los Angeles, and Mr. Earle’s organization provides shelter, food, counseling, job training, employment-placement, and housing-placement to any adult in need, free of charge. Through the donations we received, Heluna Health was able to supply Mr. Earle and his team with over 2,100 pieces of PPE, including face masks, infrared thermometers, nitrile gloves, face shields, disposable gowns, hand sanitizer, and other items to serve program participants.

COVID-19 and hope on Skid Row

Mr. Earle shared what his job was like before the pandemic and the changes he has witnessed since COVID-19. “Skid Row has always been a particularly violent place and now, it’s worse,” he recalled. “What tiny string of hope some people may have had is being rapidly destroyed by this pandemic. Some of these people have had the attitude that no one cares about them and that’s only gotten worse during this pandemic.”

Access to food, housing, and health care have been constant, ongoing needs in the Skid Row community for many years, and the impacts of COVID-19 have only worsened these gaps. “One of the hardest things to do is identify the people who actually have the virus, because there’s a whole host of illnesses on Skid Row; and there always has been,” explained Mr. Earle. “Even before this pandemic, we were the epicenter of a tuberculosis outbreak that is very difficult to treat with antibiotics, for example.”

Serving plated hot meals is no longer a viable option due to the need for social distancing and other public health recommendations. Instead, Mr. Earle and his team distribute ‘to-go food’ packed by staff and volunteers who can more easily maintain social distancing. “We go through tons of gloves, and in this pandemic, it’s gotten worse. If I see someone scratch their eye with their glove [while serving food], I want them to put on a new pair.” When the pandemic first started, he said he was scrounging for face masks and paying $1 per mask, an “exorbitant” amount. “The fact that we’re getting a supply of them is great.”

“I am really pleased with the way that this community has come together. Two months ago, seeing someone walk down the street with a face mask in Skid Row was not the norm. But it is today,” he shared. “If someone comes to the door without a face mask, we’re going to give them one. If it looks like they’ve been wearing a mask for a couple of days and it’s dirty, we’re going to give them a fresh one.”

Bringing Communities Together

Skid Row Development Corporation is just one of more than 16 community partners and local jurisdictions in California, including Los Angeles Food Bank, Alameda County, and Monterey Park Convalescent Hospital, that Heluna Health has been able to support through the COVID-19 Response Fund to date. The generosity that our network has shown through this collaborative effort proves that together, we can care for the most vulnerable among us with dignity. When strong philanthropic partners like Flu Lab invest significantly in a public health crisis like this, the impact is immediate and substantial; it unifies us all in our efforts to save lives.

It’s been six months since we’ve mobilized resources for our communities to help them survive this pandemic, and we’re just getting started. We will continue to work with our clients, partners, donors, and colleagues to further contain and mitigate the effects of COVID-19 in creative ways, and we look forward to reporting back on our impact. If you haven’t already, we hope you’ll consider joining this collective effort by donating to our Heluna Health COVID-19 Response Fund. If you’ve already donated, thank you. We couldn’t support frontline heroes like Mr. Earle, and so many like him, without you.