PHOENIX — When Dr. Tyler Southwell first started hearing from fellow doctors and nurses about shortages of N95 masks, he went to work, identifying supply sources to help fill the gap. The family practice doctor says he reached out to major medical centers to make the connection and help them stock up, but it didn't go anywhere.
Dr. Southwell decided if the government couldn't organize more quickly, he'd find others who could. He created ProtectAZ, a non-profit made up doctors, nurses, activists, and community leaders. They co-op purchase personal protective gear like masks, gloves and antigen tests, and then reach out to the groups who support those with the greatest need.
"Go out and ask every single organization, 'how are you doing? What do need? What population are you serving? How has COVID affected you?'" Dr. Southwell said.
The Justa Center, which focuses on helping seniors who live on the street, has been desperate to test the most vulnerable for coronavirus.
It connected with ProtectAZ which provided the tests, and nurses who've been furloughed administered them.
Dr. Southwell says testing the homeless protects the entire community.
"It's like kindling and wood just waiting for a spark. Our largest shelter sleeps 500. If there was an infection that swept through there, now you've overwhelmed the ICUs potentially of three major hospitals," he said.
The tests are approved for use by the state, results are reported to the Arizona Department of Health Services and any positive patients are provided a safe place to quarantine.
ProtectAZ also provides PPE for health care workers, first responders, and helps test on the Navajo Nation. They are always looking for volunteers, whether a physician who can help with tests or someone who is willing to drive supplies to northern Arizona.
"We're trying to build an army of people who want to help, they just don't know where to put their energy," he said.
They also operate on donations. To get involved, visit ProtectAZ.org.