I can’t count how many times I’ve been asked by friends, families, and readers in the past week how they can help our healthcare workers who are facing shortages of the PPE (personal protective equipment)—such as N95 masks and gowns—needed to keep them safe as they work to save the lives of the thousands of patients inundating hospitals and clinics across the United States. What can the average person do?
Turns out, a lot—as evidenced by Bethenny Frankel. You may know her best for her reality TV stint as a Real Housewife of New York and as the mogul behind SkinnyGirl margaritas, but her contribution to our current situation goes far beyond your liquor cabinet and Bravo DVR queue. A fast-talking pragmatist with superhuman multitasking powers, Frankel has morphed over the last several years into one of the fiercest forces in philanthropy, starting with her work in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria.
The fundraising, sourcing, and distribution infrastructure that her BStrong initiative developed at that time, in partnership with the Global Empowerment Mission, has now been employed to provide disaster relief to those affected by the Australia bushfires, the California wildfires, the Guatemalan volcano eruption, the Puerto Rico earthquakes—and, now, America’s COVID-19 crisis.
Explain exactly what you are doing.
BF: We are getting FDA-approved medical grade N95 masks to hospitals and clinics. We’ve worked with masks before in Guatemala after the volcano eruption. We have a warehouse in Miami, and we have good supply chains and a good reputation.
So, I’ve basically become a switchboard operator between state governments, hospitals, suppliers, and donors. We are cutting through red tape. Governments have certain checks and processes in place that are important and necessary, but in a time like this it means they just can’t work as fast as a private relief effort. So these public/private partnerships are very important right now.
We just announced one with Arizona Governor Doug Doucey to provide one million FDA-approved medical grade N95 masks to the state’s healthcare workers and we have two more partnerships with state governments in the works. I’m on the phone with Cuomo’s office hourly.
How can people join your effort?
BF: To make a donation, go to bethenny.com/bstrong. This money will go through my 501(c)(3) partner Global Empowerment Mission and be used to procure masks and distribute them to medical facilities that are most in need right now and ones that have reached out for help.
FEMA has told hospitals to go out and get what they need on their own and reimbursements will be figured out later—in some cases, hospitals are giving us money to procure for them, but some smaller hospitals and clinics do not have enough money to do this, so your donations are essentially floating them the cash to get their masks.
Alternatively, people wanting to make a large donation or to, say, get 20,000 masks for the specific hospital in their area or that they serve on the board of can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org to organize an earmarked donation.
Are there N95 masks out there to be found? Or are you having to get them manufactured?
BF: We are doing both. We’ve found masks that were placed on order for other purposes before coronavirus hit and we’ve intercepted those orders and redirected them to the U.S. But it’s tough—there’s a lot of price gouging. And we need to quality control—make sure what we are getting lives up to all the standards and approvals.
Most of all, we need to move fast, and we need to lay out a lot of money—I’m wiring deposits from my own bank account to get things moving while we organize donations. I’m hopeful our first shipments of masks will be delivered to hospitals in Massachusetts on Friday.
Why the specific focus on masks?
BF: We are all living in chronic fear and anxiety and panic. But we cannot have the people who are saving our lives feeling that panic too. Not only is it our moral obligation to keep them safe but when they are afraid, they can’t be doing their jobs to the best of their ability. I’m watching the news like everyone else and I’m also getting thousands of messages from people working in hospitals and urgent cares and paediatric ERs—from the doctors and nurses to the receptionists—begging and pleading for masks.
Have you found fellow celebrities to be helpful in your efforts?
BF: Yes, many have been so helpful in bringing awareness to our effort—Amy Schumer, Michelle Pfeiffer, Katie Couric, Vanessa Hudgens, Meghan McCain, Jenna Bush Hager, and Maria Menounos, to name just a few. And I’ve had a couple major donors come in, but they’ve been somewhat scarce. We need more.
How are you handling the stress?
BF: This is definitely the hardest thing I’ve ever done—well, aside from my divorce! But it’s more difficult than my childhood, or than anything else I’ve done in my career—I’d be dead if I did this every day. But I have to make myself relax because if I’m hysterical internally I cannot make good decisions or have good ideas. And my most valuable skill is problem solving. So I force myself to take a step back and get calm and say, “We did not get through the door; we’re going to get through the window.”
What gives you hope right now?
BF: I see this as a global reset. I’m not a touchy-feely person but we have become obsessed with superficiality and living through filters and caring more about how good our lives seem to everyone instead of how great they really are. Certainly, I have participated in this. But now everyone is going through something difficult and everyone is reflecting on what is meaningful to them and what their lives will look like in the future and how important it is to feel safe.
People are feeling helpless, but they aren’t. You can be a link in the chain. Everyone who is donating and posting and retweeting and, in any way, contributing to helping fight this war—and it’s a war—is a link in the chain. You can be part of the solution.