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Stories: How Guardians of the Angeles is caring for our caregivers

Behind the masks

The boxes are stacked chest-high on pallets, row after row, filled with surgical masks, face shields and other personal protective equipment that, at least for now, are some of the most sought-after manufactured goods in the world.

The bulk of these items have been donated by members of the community, shrink-wrapped thank yous to the caregivers at Swedish who are on the frontlines of the fight against COVID-19. And it’s in this store room of philanthropic good intentions on a day in late April that Liam Li is walking with our CEO, R. Guy Hudson, M.D., MBA, and Swedish Foundation Board of Governors member Connie Wong, talking about infection rates, drug trials and the challenges of operating a hospital system in the city where a global pandemic makes landfall.

Liam is the Vice Chairman of Guardians of the Angeles (GoA), a Charitable Foundation established in early 2020 to help doctors, nurses and first responders in the fight against COVID-19. Liam is here to make a significant contribution to this PPE stockpile: 50,000 level 3 surgical masks, shipped directly from China. He has been watching the spread of COVID-19 closely since it first reared its head last November in his home country. Almost from the beginning of the pandemic, a group of like-minded philanthropists and volunteers teamed up to support hospitals in Wuhan financially and through PPE donations. 

The foundation was committed to helping however it could in those early days, but the disease and its effects were still abstract, hard to truly conceptualize. It became all too real for Liam by early February, though. The first confirmed case of COVID-19 in the United States showed up just outside of Seattle on January 21, and then two weeks later a 34-year-old doctor from Wuhan who had alerted the public to the dangers of the disease died.

“We decided we had to create something more dedicated to this,” Liam said. “We had to make sure the doctors and nurses here were safe and sound.”

And from that tragic inspiration, Guardians of the Angeles (GoA) was born. Created with a sizable contribution from the Li Lu Humanitarian Foundation, the nonprofit was designed to care for those who care for us—through both financial support for the families of caregivers who died or were sickened fighting the disease, as well as gifts of supplies to hospitals. To date, GoA has received approximately $4.5 million in funding from a group of very generous donors and U.S. businesses.

As Liam and Dr. Hudson toured the store room, Liam explained that the relationships the foundation had established during its efforts to help in Wuhan have been invaluable to the work that GoA is doing stateside. In many cases, the foundation sourced products from manufacturers that had converted their operations to focus on producing PPE. The face masks that GoA delivered to Swedish, in fact, came from a Chinese manufacturer of electric vehicles. “We know the company, and we know the founder,” Liam said. “And they certainly make good products.”

GoA’s generous gift couldn’t have come at a better time. Swedish had recently instituted a universal masking policy that would call for a huge infusion of masks. “It has been a successful partnership journey as our PPE capabilities have progressed,” Dr. Hudson explained to Liam. “Specifically, thanks to your donation, we are able to ensure that our caregivers and patients are protected at all times. These generous efforts save lives.”

While the curve has flattened in Seattle, our work to stop the spread of COVID-19 is far from over. With help from partners like Guardians of the Angeles, though, our caregivers are safe and prepared to continue the fight.

Inspired by Guardians of the Angeles’ gift? You can help strengthen our response to COVID-19 with bulk donations of medical masks, such as N95 respirators, surgical masks, dust masks, procedure masks and isolation masks. Visit www.swedishfoundation.org/covid-19 for more information.

To learn more about how you can help our caregivers on the frontlines of the fight against COVID-19 by becoming a Corporate Partner, please visit www.swedishfoundation.org/corporate-partner.