When people see a need in the community, they step up to meet it, especially now during the still-unfolding coronavirus outbreak.

On Tuesday, staff of the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater Department of Biological Sciences did just that by donating personal-protective equipment (PPE) to health-care workers at Fort Memorial Hospital in Fort Atkinson.

Heather Pelzel, Ph.D., associate professor of Biology at UW-Whitewater, said she and department staffers had been seeing some of the news and internet stories concerning hospitals and clinics running out of medical equipment they desperately need during the COVID-19 pandemic and were in short supply.

So, they stepped up to donate what items they could.

“Some of that stuff (PPE) we had on hand for doing research and running our student labs,” Pelzel explained out. “But we’re not doing those things now, so we thought they (the items) could be put to better use where they are needed.”

Ultimately, the biology department staff donated to the hospital approximately 80 disposable laboratory coats and 20 cloth lab coats, a total of 50 facemasks and respirators, about 40 shoe covers, 20 pair of goggles, four bottles of hand sanitizer and one box of medical-grade gloves.

“We always have some (of those items) on hand for students to use in labs, so we have a stock of them, but we didn’t order any extra,” Pelzel said, noting that the items given the hospital exhausted the department’s inventory. “That (donation) wiped out most of what we have, but we also have a pretty good stock of latex and vinyl gloves that could be donated if they could be used somewhere.”

The associate professor said she really was impressed by the response she received when she sent an email to all her department colleagues, asking them if they were willing to part with any items that could be donated.

“Right away, they chimed back in to help and give up items that they could,” Pelzel remarked. “Everyone who had something to donate was willing to do so. And they were really quick!”

She said she also sent an email to her dean, provost and the chancellor asking if they could connect the department with whoever could use the personal protective equipment items.

“We got responses back really quick,” Pelzel said. “Julie Martindale, health director for the campus health center, got in touch with the hospital and made arrangements for the donation. When Julie reached out, the hospital staff got back to her really quickly.”

On the university’s Department of Biological Sciences Facebook page, she said, staffers were being urged to connect with students, as well as the community, too.

“On our Facebook page post, people from our department are connecting and sharing with the community and students with the added encouragement for everybody to just do what they can (to help out),” Pelzel said.

The professor said that everything she has been seeing throughout the campus, on Facebook and via emails being sent during the COVID-19 crisis is calling out for serving a greater cause.

“Everyone is advocating for a greater purpose and to do what’s best — not just as individuals, but for the campus community and the larger community,” Pelzel concluded. “Everybody’s encouraging everyone to do their part. So that’s really nice.”

Meanwhile, Marie Wiessmann, chief nursing officer at Fort HealthCare, said she and her staff of health workers at Fort Memorial Hospital are overjoyed by the donation of personal protective equipment.

“I guess our reaction always is, ‘This is phenomenal and thank you so much,’” Wiessmann commented. “The outpouring of support has just been incredible.”

The donated items, she indicated, will be put to good use where needed.

“They are going to be put into our (hospital’s) stockpile within our Materials Management Department and distributed to any clinical department in need,” Wiessmann said, adding there are shortages of PPE across the country. “Part of that is lack of capacity to meet the need because the need is so high.”

Lately, she said, many organizations around the county — from construction companies to the university — have offered and donated personal protective equipment to the hospital.

“There has been such an outpouring of support, and a variety of individuals also have offered us facemasks and gowns and other items,” Wiessmann stated.

The chief nursing officer said Fort HealthCare staff are reminding people, at this point, to shelter at home and isolate as much as possible.

People who are home sheltering in place, watching the news and spending time on social media, she said, still want to do something to make an impact on helping their community throughout this health crisis.

“They don’t want to sit home and do nothing,” Wiessmann said, acknowledging that the Fort Atkinson area is and always has been a small, but giving community. “And I don’t see any difference here.

“Many (people) are not working — many are worried about their financial health, but they still want to help out,” she added. “It’s been overwhelming for all of us.”

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