Fund to aid families of health workers who were killed by COVID-19

The Saint Paul & Minnesota Foundation (SPMF) today announced the creation of the Frontline Families Fund and launch of the frontlinefamiliesfund.org website in partnership with epidemiologist Michael Osterholm, PhD, MPH, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP) at the University of Minnesota and newly appointed member of President-elect Joe Biden's coronavirus task force.

The Frontline Families Fund is designed to support the families of nearly 1,400 US frontline healthcare workers who have lost their lives to COVID-19. Assistance will be provided through direct grants and scholarships for post-secondary education. Created to recognize the contributions and sacrifices of frontline healthcare workers and their families, the fund also seeks to highlight the pandemic's disproportionate burden on black and indigenous Americans and other people of color.

Jeremy Wells, senior vice president of philanthropic services for SPMF, in a press release today, said of Osterholm, "Mike has identified urgent needs and profound inequities created by the pandemic. We are mustering the foundation’s resources to get the fund into operation quickly, enlist additional partners, and orchestrate further awareness and fundraising campaigns."

Describing fallen healthcare workers as the real heroes of our nation's pandemic response, Osterholm said at a press conference today, "They need our support. Just as they were there to support us and care for us during this pandemic, now they've left behind loved ones—in many cases in dire financial straits—and it's our job as a society to thank them, to be there for them."

Osterholm points out that the loss of healthcare workers is uniquely painful for families who are used to seeing their loved one as a rescuer or protector. "They were the ones who gave people confidence. They were there to protect everyone else against COVID-19, and now they died from it. And there's just a very sad irony to that," he noted.

"We can't change what's happened but we can at least be there to help support them, and I think that this particular fund is at the right time for the right reason," he added. "We need hope right now, we need acts of kindness and I can't imagine any group of individuals who could appreciate and deserve that more than the family members of these fallen heroes."

The "Lost on the Frontline" project from Kaiser Health News and The Guardian tracks 1,375 US healthcare professionals who have died from COVID-19, including Adeline Fagan, MD, an OB/GYN resident who was just 28 when she died on Sep 19. She was one of four sisters working in the medical field.

According to the Lost on the Frontline database, her sister Maureen, 23, said Adeline brought grace, comfort, and humor to patients. Her father wrote of her death, "We spent the remaining minutes hugging, comforting, and talking to Adeline. And then the world stopped."

Website for donations, applications

Wells, with the SPMF, said that the fund's website has already collected $14,000 from 95 separate donations, and organizers hope that it will eventually raise millions of dollars in donations from individuals, businesses, foundations, and other entities to be evenly split between direct payments to families and scholarship funds.

SPMF is partnering with the Brave of Heart Fund—a national charitable relief fund to support the families of fallen healthcare workers—to provide direct payments to families in the form of immediately available $10,000 "phase 1" grants for initial expenses, including funeral costs, as well as need-based "phase 2" grants of up to $60,000.

Scholarship America—the nation's largest nonprofit, private scholarship organization—will be SPMF's partner for post-secondary education scholarships for the children of fallen workers via the Frontline Families Scholarship Fund. Eligible families can access applications for all types of funds on the Frontline Families Fund website.    

"Our goal would be that every fallen healthcare worker's family is able to get a phase 1 and phase 2 grant of some size to help give them a little bit of hope, a little bit of assistance through a very challenging time," Wells said.

'Influencers' to spread the word

SPMF is launching a public awareness campaign for the initiative and has identified around 100 national "influencers"—news and public health industry professionals, celebrities, recording artists, etc—with access to tens of millions of followers via social network platforms who have agreed to broadcast the availability of the fund over the course of the next few weeks.

The campaign aims to drive traffic to the website to gather financial contributions and ensure that families who have lost a loved one are aware that these dollars are available.

Osterholm praised the work of SPMF, adding, "I can promise you that the fiduciary oversight of this will be remarkable. This will result in direct support for these families. I just encourage everyone to be generous.

"At this time when it's hard, when it's painful, when it's tough, if you have the means to help, please do. What an act of kindness. This seems like a very natural outpouring of love and support for those that have given the ultimate sacrifice."

(CIDRAP publishes CIDRAP News.)

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