#RealHeroesNeedMasks working to get personal protection equipment to medical professionals fighting COVID-19

Grassroots group establishing donation sites nationwide where the public can safely donate N95, surgical and cloth masks

George Vlahakis  |  April 6, 2020

Editors and news directors: For more information or to arrange interviews, contact George Vlahakis at 812-855-0846 (o), 812-345-1500 (m) or vlahakis@iu.edu.

HOUSTON -- In the fight against the novel coronavirus, health care professionals are today’s heroes. A social, grassroots venture -- #RealHeroesNeedMasks – is doing more than raising awareness about the shortage of personal protective equipment. It is working at getting N95 and surgical masks to hospitals and to the life-saving doctors and nurses who need them.

Launched by a team that includes medical doctors, a genetic researcher, business professionals and college students from all over the world, #RealHeroesNeedMasks will soon direct more than 20,000 masks to 32 hospitals in Chicago, New York City, New Orleans and the states of New York, New Jersey, Indiana, California and Georgia. It also is building alliances with other organizations with a similar goal of increasing the supply of personal protection equipment.


They have worked with physicians to set up donation centers at outpatient clinics in 25 cities so far across the country, where masks can be safely donated. The group also is looking to partner with celebrities, athletes, and key influencers from around the globe on a social media campaign to mobilize public action.


The effort arose from an “Idea Sprint” organized by Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business. More than 200 entrepreneurs, coders, engineers, medical doctors, nurses, venture capitalists and other business professionals recently worked virtually and developed 19 potential solutions for problems arising from COVID-19. Several other projects are under development.


“Doctors, nurses, mid-levels, respiratory therapists and medical assistants and first responders are risking their own lives daily in this pandemic are the real heroes,” said Dr. Amani Jambhekar, a Houston-based cancer surgeon and a student in the Kelley Direct online MBA program. “Our goal is to convince the public to be sidekicks and donate masks.


“Our movement started as a weekend idea sprint which was supposed to be handed off to entrepreneurs who could make it happen,” added Jambhekar, who previously launched a national effort, Operation New Orleans, after Hurricane Katrina. “It turns out we’re the entrepreneurs, and this project has already engaged so many healthcare professionals looking for a way to give back to our front lines.”


#RealHeroesNeedMasks is working with state medical boards to help distribute donated masks, in order to get them to hospitals where they are most needed and not to individual hospitals which may not share them across healthcare systems. 


Dr. Mona Stone, an oral surgeon from Irving, Texas, said #RealHeroesNeedMasks isn’t trying to compete with other organizations. “Our goal is to optimize social benefit as the world combats COVID-19,” she said. “By combining our efforts, we can tackle this holistically in a collaborative environment.”


They are partnering with more than dozen non-profit organizations from around the country, including those in coronavirus hotspots, such as Chicago, New Orleans, Seattle, New York and Michigan. They also are directing people to #GetUsPPE, which enables people to donate funds.


Anyone who wants to donate masks can do so. They have worked with seamstresses making masks for donation in New York, Dallas, and Houston and the volunteer coordinators have helped them secure the necessary Halyard H600 material. 

The group continues to be guided by Kelley School faculty in management and entrepreneurship. For one of them, Richard Ash, a lecturer of management and entrepreneurship, the effort is deeply personal. Like Jambhekar, his wife continues to work directly with cancer patients at a hospital in Indianapolis. “Every little thing we can do counts,” Ash said. “This was a small student project that evolved into something so much bigger.”

To learn more, visit www.realheroesneedmasks.com and include the hashtag #realheroesneedmasks to show your support.

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