San Diego

Upon Receiving Massive PPE Donation, ER Doc Recalls Early Pandemic Shortage

NBC Universal, Inc.

When emergency room doctor Amy Aminlari caught COVID-19 in March, she didn’t just stay home to heal. She used part of her recovery time thinking about keeping herself and other medical workers safe.

“They’re coming through the door and you have no idea if they have COVID or not,” said Dr. Aminlari, who recalled that in the early days of the pandemic some hospitals didn’t have enough PPE to go around. “Some nursing supervisors were very adamant that you had to prove that the patient had COVID before you got the N-95.”

Instead, hospital workers were wearing less protective surgical masks or nothing over their mouths and noses.

Aminlari began researching where to find N-95 masks, and quickly learned most that were on the market were counterfeits. She realized she needed to find pre-pandemic masks to procure the real thing.

It wasn’t easy. 

“We asked surfboard shapers. We asked construction workers,” Aminlari recalled. Those who had extra N-95 masks were happy to help, but it was a trickle and she wanted a flood of PPE.

Aminlari posted a canvas sign in her backyard asking for PPE donations. The yard faces a popular walking trail, so it got a lot of attention, and people began dropping N-95 masks on her doorstep at all hours of the day and night.

Other volunteers got involved, and Dr. Alminlari then joined forces with a national group called The Last Mile. The Last Mile’s mission is to protect healthcare workers and communities hardest hit by COVID-19. She founded Last Mile San Diego along with other doctors and volunteers who have collected donations of nearly a million pieces of PPE in less than a year.

Five truckloads of mostly hand sanitizer was shipped out to 27 healthcare facilities, including nursing homes in San Diego County and just south of the Mexico border Wednesday.

“They just feel so grateful,” said Aminlari. “It’s just so touching that we can help them feel safer in doing the work that they are doing, their amazing work.”

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