COVID-19 Donor Stories
“We’re all in this together.” “It takes a village.” “United we stand.” There are many ways to describe community in these times of COVID-19. One thing is certain: Houston Methodist relies upon – and deeply appreciates – everyone who has contributed to our collective success during these unprecedented times.
Whether making a financial gift to the Infectious Diseases Research Fund, contributing to our COVID-19 Front Line Heroes Appreciation Program, buying lunches for Emergency Room staff, or just supporting care providers with #HoustonWeCan messages on social media – we thank you all. We are proud to share some of your stories below.
“I just go home, eat, shower, wash my hair, make sure all the germs are off, go to sleep… and repeat!” Izaguirre jokes one day as she completed her overnight shift at 7 a.m.
On that day, she finished one more task before heading home. She picked up a box of fresh produce conveniently located outside of Houston Methodist Hospital.
“It makes me feel like I’m important, that I haven’t been forgotten,” Izaguirre says. “It takes such a load off.”
Partnering with local distributor Brothers Produce, the Produce Alliance Foundation scheduled three distributions July 21 to cover two of Houston Methodist’s nursing shifts as well as nutrition, hospitality, environmental services and other workers taking care of COVID-19 patients. Altogether, Houston Methodist’s front-line workers received 650 boxes of fresh fruits and vegetables.
That distribution was part of the Produce Alliance Foundation’s Produce Box Project, an initiative that supports both produce distributors and front-line health care workers. After the pandemic hit, many U.S. distributors were faced with laying off their employees because of a reduced workload. Hospital staff had the opposite problem; they were working too much. The husband of the Produce Alliance Foundation’s president is a physician, and he saw firsthand the need in the medical community.
The first distribution took place April 2 in the Foundation’s home city of Chicago. Not long after, Kaily Smith Westbrook and her husband Adam learned about the project from a family friend and got involved. With the support of Michael Smith, chairman and CEO of Freeport LNG, and his wife Iris, they teamed up to sponsor 6,800 boxes of fresh produce for hospital workers throughout the country.
Those boxes equate to a temporary peace of mind for front-line workers, who have been foregoing the grocery store because of limited free time and concerns about the virus spreading.
With the pandemic being especially difficult for environmental services worker Rahel Tesema, the box brought some relief. “I have four kids, and my husband lost his job five months ago,” she says as she picked up her box of produce. “This is wonderful, especially with my kids at home.”
She planned on spending a rare day off cooking for her family.
Thanks to grants from Shelley Barineau and Ned Torian, Donor Advisors of the Longenbaugh-Torian Fund, and Linda and Lawrence I. Levy, Donor Advisors of The Longenbaugh Fund, Houston Methodist is pioneering a new research study that will measure, evaluate and assess the pandemic’s mental health impact on nurses to help improve conditions for these front-line heroes in Houston and around the world.
It started with a conversation during the pandemic’s early days. Barineau spoke to a colleague whose sister was a nurse in New York City. The city was overwhelmed and under siege from the disease. “My colleague told me her sister would come home after a long hospital shift where she saw so many people suffering,” Barineau recalls. “Before entering the house, that nurse took off her outer clothing on the front porch and dashed inside to shower for fear of spreading the virus to her family.”
“In some instances, nurses worked extraordinary hours, witnessed many deaths and worked in nursing practice areas in which they had little experience,” Barineau adds. “I simply can’t imagine working under those conditions.”
That conversation left an impression on Barineau, and she began exploring ways to positively impact the mental and emotional strain nurses are under as they care for COVID-19 patients. Her mother, Tommye Torian, had also recently joined the Houston Methodist Advancing Nursing Excellence Council, so Barineau appreciated the central role nurses play in the pandemic’s response.
Determined to better understand and address the challenges nurses face in COVID-19 hotspots, Barineau spoke for hours with Dr. Liisa Ortegon, senior vice president, chief nursing executive and the Crowning Achievement Centennial Chair in Nursing Excellence at Houston Methodist. After that meeting, the Longenbaugh-Torian Fund made a gift in honor of Torian and Emily Crosswell, the chair of the Houston Methodist Advancing Nursing Excellence Council and the secretary for the Houston Methodist Hospital Foundation Board of Directors.
The study, currently underway, is spearheaded by Dr. Ortegon and Ayoka Badmus, a nurse scientist and transplant unit manager. Through both detailed surveys sent to Houston Methodist Hospital’s 2,000 nurses and through small focus groups, the study will collect quantitative and qualitative data measuring nurses’ mental health during the crisis. The data will shed light on finding resources or interventions effective in alleviating stress and anxiety.
“Houston Methodist is the ideal institution to lead the way in this effort, with its innovative culture, world-class nursing, highly respected reputation and pioneering leadership both before and during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Barineau states. “Houston Methodist is home to the types of novel projects and groundbreaking ideas we support.”
“Taking care of our nurses is so important!” she elaborates. “The world needs to understand the mental health impact on these heroes and learn from their experiences. Houston Methodist has the bandwidth to measure the impact and model a solution. That’s why it’s the best place in the world for this study.”
Brian Cook heard about the trials and triumphs nurses encounter during regular circumstances from his mother-in-law, who had a four-decade career in nursing. When COVID-19 hit, Houston resident Cook and his Hoar Construction team wanted to give back to help ease the new challenges the pandemic presented.
“It’s hard to articulate the stress and fatigue our front-line workers endure when dealing with a barrage of patients who have COVID-19,” says Cook, managing director of Hoar Construction. “They stick with it and have the grit to continue serving our community at such a high standard. ‘Thank you’ is not enough, so our team at Hoar wanted to show our immense appreciation for our health care workers.”
Cook says they made gifts through the company’s philanthropic arm, Hoar Community Foundation, to support the Houston Methodist Infectious Diseases Research Fund and the Houston Methodist COVID-19 Front Line Heroes Appreciation Program. The Infectious Diseases Research Fund advances research, treatment and technological efforts to fight COVID-19. The Front Line Heroes Appreciation Program treated roughly 5,000 Houston Methodist front-line workers to a paid day off and $100 to enjoy a “Meal on Us.”
“We established the Hoar Community Foundation almost two decades ago with the intent to pay it forward to the communities and the organizations from which we benefit,” says Cook, who notes past support includes a July 2019 gift to Houston Methodist Clear Lake Hospital’s Crowning Achievement Awards for Excellence in Nursing. “Houston is a community that we’ve been in for 20 years, and Houston Methodist a huge part of that community. Making these gifts aligned with our foundation’s purpose.”
The recent philanthropic commitments were matched dollar-for-dollar thanks to some dedicated benefactors, which doubled the impact of the Hoar Construction group’s generosity. Cook says they enjoyed giving back to a hospital system for which they have completed multiple projects. Hoar Construction workers expanded the central utility plant and constructed a catheterization lab at Houston Methodist Clear Lake Hospital. They are currently working on a new orthopedics clinical office building at that community hospital.
“We wanted to show our commitment to the front-line heroes taking care of the men and women affected by this pandemic,” says Cook. “We also wanted to be a part of something that may help Houston Methodist find a vaccine or a cure for COVID-19. They are conducting the research and providing the care that may ultimately transition us out of this pandemic.”
“Our industry is deemed critical infrastructure, but a lot of our personnel can work from home,” Stryk says. “A lot of health care workers have to drive to and from work as if things are normal during this very unprecedented time. Knowing they’re having to work long shifts, we wanted to show our appreciation by making sure they can get to and from work on a full tank that’s on us.”
ExxonMobil has partnered with the hospital for decades. A cornerstone gift from Humble Oil helped establish San Jacinto Memorial Hospital in 1948, providing the Baytown area with state-of-the-art medical care. The hospital became part of Houston Methodist in 1983, and the name changed to Houston Methodist Baytown in 2018 after a major expansion to the campus.
Tilton, who was born at that hospital, recalls many instances of her community’s resilience. “Be it a hurricane or this pandemic, one incredible thing is that Baytown-area residents come together in times of crisis,” she says. “At ExxonMobil, we like to lead by example, so we stepped up to the plate. Our community is a strong community, and we are pulling together to help each other.”
Stryk says in addition to saying “thank you” to hospital staffers on the front lines with gifts they can use, he takes pride in the fact his company manufactures some of the raw materials that go into the PPE keeping ExxonMobil and Houston Methodist employees safe. Stryk elaborates he hopes the leadership of other companies considering donations will join him and Tilton in thinking about their own friends, family members or loved ones affected by this pandemic.
“When I consider all of the tireless men and women who have been working and burning the midnight oil for the past few months, and will be for the foreseeable future, I compare it to marathons I run,” Stryk notes. “We need somebody with them throughout this entire journey, however long it takes, to sustain them and to keep their spirits and their hopes up. We’ll make sure we’re there supporting them all the way.”
In May, the Reliant Innovation Fund was created after the company donated $130,000 to empower EnMed students to create groundbreaking treatments for critically ill patients now and in a post-COVID-19 world.
“Houston Methodist’s focus on solving health care’s greatest challenges makes a real difference here in our community and beyond,” says Elizabeth Killinger, Reliant president. “In our hometown of Houston, Reliant is thrilled to partner with Houston Methodist as they continue providing outstanding care for our neighbors while planning for the future of medicine.”
EnMed is a collaborative endeavor among Houston Methodist and Texas A&M University’s College of Medicine and College of Engineering. Students in the program earn a medical degree and a master’s in engineering in four years. They focus on developing transformational technology and improving or designing new safety measures that streamlines care in intensive care units.
“Reliant’s partnership and donation will allow our EnMed students to innovate for the dynamic needs on today’s clinical front lines,” says Timothy Boone, MD, PhD, who leads EnMed and holds the Craig C. Brown and Suzanne H. Smith Centennial Chair in Medical Education. He is also the director of the Houston Methodist Education Institute and the associate dean of Texas A&M University College of Medicine’s Houston Regional Campus.
The gift from Reliant will also help support and expand patient-centric communication through the CareSense program, a digital platform that allows Houston Methodist to care for COVID-19 patients after they leave the hospital. The tool aids in patient education and health recovery. It also provides answers to frequently asked questions, tips to enhance physical and mental recovery, and support for patient caregivers.
Faisal Masud, MD, the Mary A. and M. Samuel Daffin, Sr. Centennial Chair in Anesthesia and Critical Care and medical director of critical care at Houston Methodist Hospital, oversees the Reliant Innovation Fund.
“The challenges we face with the COVID-19 pandemic amplify the need for fresh ideas to combat this disease and to treat those who have been affected,” Masud says. “Innovating is at the core of what we do at Houston Methodist, and this generous gift from Reliant will make a difference for patients now and for years to come.”
“This virus is like a hurricane without the rain,” says Twila Carter, executive director and senior vice president of community relations of The Astros Foundation. “In a hurricane, everyday heroes rescue people from floodwaters. In this COVID-19 storm, the Houston Methodist team keeps people healthy and saves lives. We were glad to do our small part.”
The Astros Foundation’s generosity was directed toward the Houston Methodist COVID-19 Front Line Heroes Appreciation Program, which treated roughly 5,000 Houston Methodist front-line workers to a paid day off and $100 to enjoy a “Meal on Us.”
Through The Astros Foundation, the Houston Astros bring awareness to many important causes, including childhood cancer, homelessness, domestic violence, active-duty military and veterans, and youth baseball and softball. Carter notes they made the decision to support front-line heroes at Houston Methodist because it ultimately affects everyone in the community.
“It was an emergency situation impacting our community in a huge way,” Carter elaborates. “We want our city to be healthy, and we are counting on Houston Methodist to help us fight this virus. We know their staff works long hours, and they must be exhausted. To do something that really touches people was important to us.”
Houston Methodist has proudly served as the Official Health Care Provider of the Houston Astros since 1962, and Carter says this partnership works well. “Houston Methodist takes care of our team and our family of fans, and we love our fans! It’s a win-win. Also, we know when the Astros play baseball, it lifts everyone’s spirits.”
Carter notes that Houston’s pro sports teams — including the Astros, Texans, Rockets and Dynamo — have an extraordinary platform as key voices in the city. For example, Astros fans notice what and who their team supports. This exposure brings awareness and recognition to crucial causes.
“We constantly work to strengthen partnerships that make our city a better place,” Carter says. “I know we can tackle this virus storm just like we tackled Hurricane Harvey — together.”
“We are in awe of what happens every day at Houston Methodist,” says Ellis. “The stories of our health care workers performing amazing feats day in and day out during this pandemic inspired us to action.”
After visiting with the Houston Methodist Hospital Foundation, Ellis and DeBusk decided to send the hospital’s medical intensive care unit a Fourth of July barbecue meal.
Ellis contacted Pizzitola’s Bar-B-Cue, her family’s local barbecue favorite. The owner quickly agreed to help. He had a personal connection to Houston Methodist and felt honored to serve front-line heroes.
Pizzitola’s staff arranged three options, which included vegetarian selections. The team packed and labeled 30 meals individually for the front-line workers, adhering to enhanced food safety protocols.
“They delivered the food on a holiday, so the medical intensive care unit staff at Houston Methodist could have a delicious lunch,” says Ellis. “Marty and I were thrilled to do something nice for the dedicated team to express our heartfelt thanks!”
DeBusk and Ellis agree that one doesn’t need special knowledge of Houston Methodist to give thanks to the health care workers. “If you are inspired like we were, just call the Houston Methodist Hospital Foundation,” DeBusk says. “They’ll help you say thanks to the heroes of this pandemic.”
For more information about making a gift to support the front-line workers, please call 832.667.5816.
The Houston-based Page team not only provided hundreds of meals for front-line staff at Houston Methodist West Hospital in Katy but also made a gift to Houston Methodist’s COVID-19 Front Line Heroes Appreciation Program, created to honor the roughly 5,000 Houston Methodist employees working tirelessly to serve COVID-19 patients.
“We’re really proud of our relationship with Houston Methodist, and we wanted to show our support for them and show our appreciation for all that they do for the community,” says Arturo Chavez, senior principal architect in Page’s Houston office.
Page’s Houston architects developed the architectural designs for Houston Methodist West Hospital and Houston Methodist The Woodlands Hospital. Their work is also visible in major Houston projects such as the Rice Hotel renovation and Discovery Green in downtown.
The Page group supplied 525 hot meals from Uptown Catering to the overnight emergency room and patient care staff at Houston Methodist West Hospital over several days. Chavez notes they wanted to help overnight workers for whom meal options are limited, while simultaneously sending business to Uptown Catering. Like many caterers, it saw business decline during the shutdown.
“It was a triple whammy — support a local business, provide a good meal to the front-line night crew at the hospital, and show our support for Houston Methodist and the leadership they show in the community,” Chavez says.
But Page’s generosity didn’t stop there. The company’s charitable arm, the Page Foundation, made donations to several organizations across the country in the COVID-19 fight, including a gift to the Houston Methodist COVID-19 Front Line Heroes Appreciation Program. The initiative provides the heroes with a paid day off and a $100 bonus to enjoy a “Meal on Us.” Thanks to some dedicated philanthropists, gifts to the COVID-19 heroes program were matched dollar-for-dollar. Therefore, it doubled the impact of Page’s generosity.
“We really like how this program directly benefited the ones on the front lines of the COVID-19 fight, and we’re excited to have helped in some way,” Chavez says.
The time spent convalescing for some COVID-19 patients got much brighter thanks to the generosity of some Houston-area Home Depot store managers who donated supplies and furniture for a new rooftop garden at Houston Methodist Continuing Care Hospital. The Katy facility offers inpatient long-term acute care, and has a Highly Infectious Disease Unit (HIDU) that accommodates patients who do not need ICU care, but who are not ready to be discharged from the hospital.
The recovery period for COVID-19 patients can be long, up to four weeks. Because they are in isolation, they cannot receive visitors and cannot leave the HIDU. To help lift their spirits, Continuing Care staff members wanted to be able to take COVID-19 patients outside for fresh air. There was a stark, empty rooftop area where HIDU patients could be taken to, but turning it into a warm, welcoming space would take some work.
Trisha Dutton, an exercise physiologist at Continuing Care, called Darlene Bateman, manager of the Home Depot store in Copperfield. Bateman loved the idea of a garden for COVID-19 patients, but knew it would take a team effort to make it a reality.
With the go-ahead from her regional manager, Bateman called several other Home Depot store managers. She says: “We drew up a diagram and talked about what the space needed to make it look really nice. Each store had different products to contribute, and we all pitched in.”
Nine area stores and their vendors donated materials, greenery and furniture including artificial grass, wood, soil, flowers, plants, benches, patio furniture and even a pergola. Before the days of COVID-19, these materials would typically have been installed by volunteers from Team Depot, the Home Depot Foundation’s community improvement initiative. The program has been on hold, but will be re-launching in phases to help keep employees and the community safe.
However, Continuing Care staff members and facilities workers were able to install the materials and arrange the greenery and furniture. By the end of May, the rooftop garden was open to COVID-19 patients.
According to Dutton, the impact was immediate. She says: “These patients really struggle with depression because of the isolation. Getting them outside for sunlight and Vitamin D on a daily basis boosts their spirits and really helps their recovery. Some patients have video calls with family members while sitting in the garden, and you really see the improvement in their attitudes.”
Bateman, who has been with Home Depot for 13 years, says: “Helping local communities is in Home Depot’s DNA. The company started out small, and we have always stayed true to our belief in giving back to our communities. They empower us to do what we can when possible.”
While outside visitors are limited because of the hospital’s restricted access policy, members of the Home Depot team were able to see photos of the finished garden. “We’re thrilled with how it turned out,” Bateman says. “We were blown away by how beautiful it was.”
Dutton believes the garden blossomed into something more wonderful than the staff had envisioned. She says: “It was a wonderful experience to work with Home Depot. Everyone there was so giving.”
“We really consider ourselves a partner of Houston Methodist,” says Annette Zimmerman, chief executive officer at PrimeWay. “We are grateful to live in a city where you can find the caliber of knowledgeable, innovative medical care provided by Houston Methodist.”
The PrimeWay Federal Credit Union Foundation recently donated to Houston Methodist’s COVID-19 Front Line Heroes Appreciation Program, created to honor the more than 6,000 Houston Methodist employees working tirelessly to serve our COVID-19 patients. The initiative provides the heroes with a paid day off and a $100 bonus to enjoy a “Meal on Us.” Thanks to some dedicated philanthropists, gifts to the COVID-19 heroes program are matched dollar-for-dollar. Therefore, it will double the impact of PrimeWay’s generosity.
An integral fixture in the Texas Medical Center, PrimeWay has maintained a longstanding relationship with Houston Methodist. The hospital is among PrimeWay’s Select Employer Groups, and PrimeWay has counted many Houston Methodist employees among its members since it merged with The Methodist Hospital Credit Union more than 20 years ago. PrimeWay also has a branch location in Houston Methodist’s Smith Tower.
As a credit union, PrimeWay is a nonprofit financial institution owned by its member account-holders. Because so many of its members work in health care, PrimeWay officers are acutely aware of the challenges workers in the medical field are facing during the pandemic.
“It has been a rough time for everyone, but especially for those hospital workers at the forefront,” says Zimmerman. “We wanted to do something to help and to show our appreciation. We want to be there for those who keep showing up and risking their lives for us.”
For 67 days straight, the brothers and Joe Haliti’s nephew Fidan Rrahmani arrived at 7 a.m. to cook pans of lasagna, chicken fettuccini, spaghetti, other main courses and sides derived from old family recipes. They donated the meals to health care professionals, first responders, teachers, families who lost their jobs, government officials and nonprofit employees.
“They were working so hard, and we wanted them to stay healthy so they could keep taking care of people,” says Joe Haliti, who co-owns the Conroe-based restaurant that opened in 2006.
Since so many restaurants were closed during this time, the Haliti brothers figured first responders and other medical personnel might have difficulty finding food during their shifts. One of the recipients of their generosity was the team at Houston Methodist The Woodlands Hospital. More than 800 physicians, nurses and front-line staff dined on lasagna, salad and bread.
“With all the restrictions in place, we weren’t sure if hospitals could accept the food,” says Joe Haliti. “When we found out they were accepting food donations, we were so excited to serve the heroes at Houston Methodist. It was a wonderful experience to provide them a fresh, hot meal.”
Joe Haliti says he is thankful to the community for supporting the meal program to the extent they could. Their donations from $10 to $200 covered about 5% of food costs. “It is so touching to see all the love people have shared through this crisis,” he notes.
In only two months’ time, the brothers donated roughly 25,000 meals from their humble restaurant. Along with Rrahmani, they made anywhere from 300-1,900 meals per morning that volunteers or office staff then delivered to the front-line heroes.
“Our doctors, police, paramedics and local officials work so hard with so little thanks,” Joe Haliti says. “We wanted them to know we appreciate them. They’re definitely our heroes.”
David Modesett believes that the COVID-19 pandemic is the greatest crisis we have faced since the Second World War. He says one thing he noticed though, when the pandemic hit Houston in early March and everything began to unwind, was Houston Methodist’s calm, cool and collected response.
“In the midst of all that chaos, when people were wondering what was going to happen, Houston Methodist CEO Dr. Marc Boom and his team were methodical and cool-headed,” he notes. “They demonstrated they had a plan in place and were already working on it. Diane and I wanted to find a way to say ‘you’re doing a great job and we have confidence in you.’”
So the Modesetts joined other philanthropists to create a $1 million Challenge Initiative to inspire other donors and match the additional $1 million needed to establish the Houston Methodist Infectious Diseases Research Fund. After this $1M challenge fund was fully matched by over 50 benefactors within two weeks, David and Diane helped to create a second $1 million Challenge Initiative. More than $5 million has been raised for the fund as of June 11 to accelerate translational research and clinical trials to combat COVID-19 and other infectious diseases.
Giving is important to David because he believes money is about stewardship. “I think to whom much is given, much is expected,” he says. “We are called to be good stewards of the resources we are given. When my friends and other people talk about how horrific this pandemic is, my question to them is: ‘What are you doing about it?’ I believe if they’re really supportive of something, they shouldn’t just talk about it, they should invest their capital in it.”
The Modesetts make sure that institutions they support share their stewardship philosophy. David says: “Diane and I are going to support Houston Methodist in every way we can. They are extremely well-organized and trustworthy stewards of capital. Houston Methodist is here for the world, but I think its leaders wake up every day and say ‘What’s our long-term plan for the health of the citizens of the city of Houston?’”
David hopes others will join him and Diane in their support during these crucial times of this pandemic. “I can’t think of a better thing people could do with their treasure right now than support institutions like Houston Methodist,” he says. “This pandemic isn’t a short-term thing — this is going to be facing us, our children and our community for a long time. That’s why I think it’s critical that Houston Methodist get the support that they need.”
Aramco Americas has joined in supporting a promising plasma therapy for COVID-19 patients that was first to go to trial in the U.S. at Houston Methodist Hospital. The $500,000 donation – making Aramco a leading sponsor – advances work in plasma therapy, offering a timely response to the virus in the absence of a vaccine and specific treatment options.
The innovative treatment, called convalescent plasma therapy, takes blood plasma from a recovered COVID-19 patient and infuses it with the antibodies it contains, into a person who is currently suffering from COVID-19. "Convalescent plasma therapy has been effective in other infectious diseases and our physician-scientists are working to develop it into a first-line treatment for COVID-19,” said Dirk Sostman, M.D., President, Houston Methodist Academic Institute.
Aramco’s donation advances the various phases of Houston Methodist’s clinical research about this treatment, including a randomized controlled trial for validation and, importantly, the application of unique innovative technology in the area of monoclonal antibodies that can be ready and available for use in therapy for COVID-19. The latter effort is being developed by Houston Methodist’s Department of Pathology and Genomic Medicine in collaboration with scientists around the country.
“Houston Methodist Hospital is a world-leader in health care as well as research and development. Our donation is an opportunity to support the innovative work occurring there in support of the Houston community and to contribute to long-term medical solutions for this global health crisis,” said Mohammad S. Alshammari, President & CEO, Aramco Americas.
“Houston Methodist Hospital is a world-leader in health care as well as research and development. Our donation is an opportunity to support the innovative work occurring there in support of the Houston community and to contribute to long-term medical solutions for this global health crisis,” said Mohammad S. Alshammari, President & CEO, Aramco Americas.
The city of Houston is recognized for having one of the best medical centers in the world and Houston Methodist is a leader in advancing clinical trials. When Aramco became aware of the promising treatment administered locally, it wanted to contribute to advancements in the research and administration of the program.
“We are grateful for Aramco as a community partner both now and for the company’s 30 years of involvement in our hospital system,” said Cathy Easter, President and CEO, Houston Methodist Global Health Care Services. “This support gives us resources to continue our work at one of the most challenging times in modern history.”
Houston has been Aramco Americas headquarters home for nearly 50 years, working side-by-side with local government and other charitable organizations to address a number of issues including education and environmental protection.
Aramco’s donations to address the coronavirus are part of the company’s global relief efforts and, in the U.S., are focused on providing food security and supporting the medical response.
“We stockpiled some essentials to use in case our employees needed them,” says Ashley Carner, AMOCO’s chief operating officer. “But we never thought that this blueprint was a plan we would have to pull out — ever.”
Among those essentials were N95 masks. With the majority of the AMOCO team working from home, Carner says they decided the masks needed to benefit people helping on the front lines of the pandemic. Therefore, they donated 1,000 N95 masks to Houston Methodist Clear Lake Hospital physicians, nurses and medical staff.
“We felt we didn’t need the masks at the time,” says Carner. “We wanted to donate those supplies to the people who save lives so they could protect themselves.”
The AMOCO gifts didn’t stop there. The team also donated 225 meals to Houston Methodist Clear Lake’s day and night shift emergency room and intensive care unit staffs on April 16. Kevin Venable, AMOCO’s cultural and communications manager, says they chose local restaurants La Brisa Mexican Grill and Little Bella Mia to further support the community. In total, AMOCO leaders donated more than 1,800 meals in a five-week span to Houston-area hospitals and first responders.
“AMOCO is all about community,” says Venable. “In these uncertain times, we want to be there for those who need it most.”
AMOCO’s community presence is evident in its longstanding partnership with Houston Methodist Clear Lake. All Houston Methodist employees are eligible to join the federal credit union, and the company is a Society for Leading Medicine member. AMOCO officers made a generous gift in 2019 to support Houston Methodist Clear Lake’s Crowning Achievement Awards for Excellence in Nursing, which invests in professional development opportunities for nurses.
“Overall, Houston Methodist is a leader in medicine,” says Carner. “Any support you give to anybody in the medical field can make a difference in their day while they take care of us.”
Houston-area contractor Christensen Building Group LLC recently donated hundreds of face masks and other pieces of personal protective equipment (PPE) to Houston Methodist Baytown Hospital. Company officials wanted to help ensure front-line employees had the gear they needed to treat COVID-19 patients.
As a major construction company with projects throughout the region, Christensen stockpiles items such as N95 masks, Tyvek suits and face shields that its employees use on building sites. This is the same kind of PPE that health care providers use, which was in short supply when the COVID-19 pandemic escalated in March.
As hospitals everywhere braced for incoming COVID-19 patients, Christensen leaders wanted to help. Nick Nelson, equipment manager at Christensen’s Baytown office, read in the local Baytown Sun newspaper that Houston Methodist Baytown Hospital CEO David Bernard asked the local business community for assistance. Bernard stated they needed help obtaining medical supplies such as N95 masks, face shields and Tyvek suits — exactly the kind of supplies that Christensen had on hand.
Nelson consulted with Christensen executives, and they agreed to help. Then, he contacted the hospital. The next day, Christensen delivered hundreds of brand new N95 masks and other PPE to Houston Methodist Baytown.
“We need that equipment for our projects from time to time, but those hospital workers are on
the front line serving our community,” says Nelson. “At that point, they needed those supplies more than we did. We try to give back to our community as much as we can, and we were happy to help the hospital workers just down the road from us.”
Thanks in part to supply donations from Christensen and other community partners, Houston Methodist Baytown had the PPE it needed and was better prepared for a surge in COVID-19 patients.
“We really appreciate the generosity of individuals and corporations throughout the Baytown/Houston area,” Houston Methodist Baytown Hospital spokesman Rodney Evans told the Baytown Sun.
“Protection from the virus and infectious diseases research are two themes that are top of mind as we continue to battle COVID-19,” says Michael S. Smith, founder, chairman and CEO of Freeport LNG.
Those themes inspired Freeport LNG’s recent generous gift to the Houston Methodist Infectious Diseases Research Fund, which helped create a second Challenge Initiative to match every dollar committed up to $1 million. The fund supports research and clinical trials for COVID-19 — among other contagious illnesses — and has surpassed more than $4.6 million as of June 8.
Smith says the decision to back Houston Methodist physicians’ and physician-scientists’ bold quest to eradicate COVID-19 was a quite easy one and was part of a continuing relationship between the two Texas titans.
“Houston Methodist is at the forefront of utilizing the experience and knowledge of gifted minds who are leading infectious diseases research,” says Smith, who founded Freeport LNG in 2002. “Knowing this, it was only fitting that Freeport LNG answer the call to assist these efforts. We are proud to support Houston Methodist in their efforts to fight COVID-19.”
The Houston Methodist Infectious Diseases Research Fund was formed earlier this year to bolster a range of COVID-19 research, from blood transfusion therapy to the development of vaccines and treatments to the production of PPE for hospital staff.
Smith says he hopes more philanthropic organizations, benevolent companies and altruistic Houstonians consider supporting COVID-19 research through contributions to the Houston Methodist Infectious Diseases Research Fund.
“When it comes to our Houston community, we know we’ve faced challenging times before,” says Smith. “What has brought us through those times is banding together to support one another. COVID-19 has shown that we once again have a need and an opportunity to join one another to battle this disease. Freeport LNG is happy to step up and support Houston Methodist, and we invite others who are so inclined to join us.”
With the COVID-19 pandemic in full swing throughout the Houston region, doctors at Houston Methodist Clear Lake Hospital had an out-of-the-box idea for honoring their front-line heroes: serve them hot dogs with all the trimmings conveniently and individually boxed. Along with his own contribution, Dr. Joseph Naoum inspired over 20 other physicians on campus to provide the funding to cater and deliver meals to all staff members for the day and evening shifts at the hospital.
“It was a small way of saying to our valued staff members: ‘We see you; we know that you’re here; we appreciate you,’” Dr. Naoum says. “We wanted to tell them ‘thank you and keep up the good work!’”
After Dr. Naoum texted his colleagues about the effort, they enthusiastically and generously replied with their contributions. For safety reasons, the food was delivered in pre-packaged and individually boxed meals, totaling 215 lunches for the day shift and 110 dinners for the evening shift.
The physicians treated all front line workers for both day and night shifts including nurses, X-ray technicians and respiratory technicians, as well as transportation, kitchen and housekeeping staffs. “What I like about Houston Methodist Clear Lake is that we’re a smaller hospital,” Dr. Naoum says. “We’re more of a close-knit community. Everybody knows everybody in the hospital.”
After the catering bills were paid, extra proceeds were donated to support the Houston Methodist COVID-19 Front Line Heroes Appreciation Program. This innovative effort honors the roughly 6,000 front-line Houston Methodist staff who are fighting against COVID-19, rewarding them with a paid day off and a $100 gift to help offset the cost of food for their family.
Dr. Naoum encourages anyone who thinks of something good to do for front-line workers to go ahead and execute their idea. “It’s a good cause, and it shows solidarity,” he says. “It’s not about the value of the meal or the donation; it’s the effect of the gesture that goes way beyond and speaks volumes. Like they say in Mastercard commercials, the sign of appreciation is ‘priceless’, and the key message is how much we value our workers and colleagues.”
When members of Houston Methodist’s Advancing Nursing Excellence Council heard about local philanthropist Linda Katz’s efforts to raise money to provide meals for some of our front line heroes, they rallied and generously contributed to the effort. Over 80 donors, including many council members and other friends of Ms. Katz, raised enough money to cater and deliver 670 dinners to staff members at Houston Methodist Hospital in the Texas Medical Center who are providing care to patients with COVID-19.
“We had been trying to figure out a way to thank and show support for our nurses,” says Emily Crosswell, chair of the Advancing Nursing Excellence Council and member of both the Houston Methodist Hospital and Houston Methodist Hospital Foundation boards. “When I heard that Linda Katz had already organized this effort and put it into action, I encouraged other council members to join forces with her and maximize our ‘thanks’ to our nurses and their health care partners by contributing.”
Houstonian Linda Katz came up with the idea because she wanted to honor courageous health care workers while helping to provide some additional income to local restaurants during these difficult times. “Houstonians are action-oriented when a crisis hits, but this time, we could not leave our homes. Many of us had been trying to think of ways to help our community,” she says. “This had a double payoff: hard-working health care workers got some good meals and a local restaurant got some extra business. It was a clear win-win opportunity in a tough time.”
The hot meals were distributed at several COVID-19 intensive care, emergency and patient care units to all on-duty staffers including nurses, doctors, respiratory therapists and housekeepers. Catered by Houston’s Relish Restaurant and Bar, each individually-boxed meal of fried chicken, salad and macaroni and cheese included a special touch: a handwritten note of thanks to each caregiver who received one.
Restaurant owner Addie Teague shared this message that she received back from Houston Methodist: “I’m a nurse working at a COVID 19 unit in the med center. Relish sent us delicious box lunches with handwritten notes of thanks from them. I was touched. Kindness and yummy food and being appreciated — my life is full.”
The Advancing Nursing Excellence Council was established to support Houston Methodist nurses in their professional development with financial assistance for training and educational opportunities. The goal is to help advance our nurses’ expertise, prepare them for future challenges and enhance the care they provide for our patients.
“Our mission is helping others, and we understand how hospital administrators are struggling to find and buy enough equipment on their own during this COVID-19 pandemic,” says Huong Tu Foundation vice president Andy Tran. “So we’ve been sewing cloth masks and collecting PPE gear so we could donate them to as many hospitals as we can.”
Mr. Tran says foundation members were happy to donate PPE and supplies to Houston Methodist after Drs. Nguyen reach out to them, noting that Harris County had been the county with the highest number of patients affected by COVID-19 in the state of Texas. In addition to their gift to Houston Methodist, members have also made donations to 13 hospitals in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
According to Mr. Tran, members of the Huong Tu Foundation have been working together on making and collecting PPE and supplies since they had identified hospitals’ shortage of these materials as the project they most urgently needed to work on. The foundation’s 50 members plus their friends and family are associated with the Fort Worth’s Huong Dao Temple, a Vietnamese Theravada Buddhist temple.
Foundation members have been busy identifying sources for mask fabric locally, online and in other countries including Viet Nam, finding commercial sewing machines to borrow, sewing the masks and collecting other PPE supplies. Mr. Tran says: “We are all very close to each other, and we are really happy and blessed to work together like a family to help the community — especially the doctors and nurses and other hospital employees who are working on the front lines.”
It was a simple idea that snowballed into much, much more. Dr. Jeff Savell, a Texas A&M University Department of Animal Science professor, donated $250 to the owners of Houston’s Roegels Barbecue restaurant so they could prepare meals for hospital employees. He wanted to help a small, locally owned restaurant stay afloat and honor the efforts and sacrifices of front line heroes battling COVID-19.
Dr. Savell invited Houston Methodist physicians Dr. Patrick Reardon and his wife, Dr. Debra Harvey, to meet at the restaurant with owners Russell and Misty Roegels and Texas A&M colleagues Dr. Davey Griffin and Ray Riley. The physicians pitched in to help cover costs to feed front line workers at Houston Methodist’s Medical Intensive Care Unit and Emergency Department, and they helped plan delivery of the meals.
When some restaurant customers overheard discussions about the effort, they asked if they could chip in and contribute to the worthy cause. Word quickly spread and, before long, enough money was brought in to feed Texas-style BBQ to all of the nurses, technicians, doctors and support staffs in both units for an entire day.
But the effort didn’t end there. Donations kept pouring in and, within days, Dr. Reardon created a Facebook page and set up a donation site to spread the word about the fund. Other small, community-based restaurants were brought on board. Dr. Reardon began coordinating meal deliveries to front line warriors at the new Highly Infectious Disease Unit and some Houston Methodist community hospitals, and to unseen-but-critical members of the Houston Methodist Supply Chain team. He also arranged meals for front line heroes at other hospitals in the Texas Medical Center, throughout the Houston area and in College Station.
When all was said and done, over 500 people throughout Houston and the state of Texas donated over $54,000 to feed hospital employees. Dr. Reardon says it came as no surprise to him that the seeds of this project were planted, nurtured and brought to fruition by individuals associated with Houston Methodist and Texas A&M University.
“The mission of ‘service to others’ is ingrained as a core value within the cultures of these two institutions,” he says. “This incredible effort supported not only the front line health care workers who make sacrifices every day just by doing their jobs, but also local small restaurant owners who are struggling in these difficult economic times. The generosity and basic human kindness of people during this pandemic has been inspiring, and it is a good example for all of us to follow.”
The China General Chamber of Commerce (CGCC) – USA is helping Houston Methodist’s front line heroes stay safe while fighting COVID-19 by donating 10,000 surgical masks. The use of surgical masks and other forms of personal protective equipment (PPE) significantly lowers the risk of medical personnel contracting COVID-19 while carrying out their patient-care responsibilities.
“Our mission is to connect people, build trust and expand cooperation,” says Lingyi Liu, executive director of CGCC – Houston. “This has never been more critical as the number of COVID-19 cases continue to climb throughout the United States. We at the CGCC – USA and the CGCC Foundation remain committed to help flattening the curve and supporting local communities throughout the U.S.”
According to Ms. Liu, Houston Methodist’s Global Health Care Services and CGCC – Houston have been partners since 2018, and the two organizations have co-hosted some events together. Through the chamber, Global Health Care Services has helped to coordinate Houston Methodist medical and health care services for some Chinese citizens living in the Houston area.
The chamber was involved early on in the pandemic, working with medical supply companies on buying and shipping PPE to the Chinese city of Wuhan during the initial outbreak of the coronavirus. As COVID-19 spread to the United States, CGCC – Houston joined with other regional chamber offices to purchase needed medical supplies and begin donating them to hospitals in need throughout the United States.
Ms. Liu says our longtime partnership inspired her to consider Houston Methodist as the first recipient of the CGCC Foundation’s PPE donations in Houston. “Knowing our medical community here in Houston is short on masks,” she says, “we just wanted to express our gratitude to all of the health care workers who are heroically working on the front lines of this pandemic.”
When Lake Charles, Louisiana real estate developer William “Dub” Henning, Jr. read about Houston Methodist’s experimental blood plasma transfusions to treat critically ill COVID-19 patients, he knew it was the perfect opportunity to pitch in across state lines and help our region to combat the virus.
“We wanted to reach out from Louisiana and Lake Charles and do our part to fight the coronavirus,” Henning says. “Knowing that Houston Methodist was the first to perform blood plasma transfusions on COVID-19 patients using immunity from other people, we could see that you were on the cutting edge of getting something special done there in Houston. We just wanted to help out.”
Houston Methodist became the first hospital in the country to use an advanced FDA-approved protocol to transfuse donated plasma from recovered COVID-19 patients to critically ill patients. By transfusing antibodies from patients who have survived the virus into patients still fighting the virus, we are breaking new ground translating the power of these vital antibodies into a healing, possibly life-saving therapy.
Dub Henning and his wife, Susan, were pleased that their generous gift was matched dollar-for-dollar thanks to a Challenge Initiative that was in place for the first $1 million in gifts received by the Infectious Diseases Research Fund. As developers of the Oak Crossing business community in Lake Charles, the Hennings gave their gift through their family’s Oak Crossing Foundation, which they established to support and raise money for a variety of different charitable organizations and causes.
Houston Methodist established its Infectious Diseases Research Fund to help support research and clinical trials designed to combat infectious diseases such as COVID-19. In addition to supporting the COVID-19 Blood-Transfusion Therapy study, the fund supports the development of other new vaccines and treatments along with the production of innovative personal protective equipment (PPE) and critical medical technologies. As with all of our translational research efforts, private philanthropy and gifts like this one from the Oak Crossing Foundation allow us to move our innovative solutions forward at a faster pace.