Delivering food to the front lines

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Debra Paul, fourth from left in the back row, is raising funds with a group of health care industry professionals for workers on the front lines of the pandemic.

A group of health care industry professionals have come together to support their friends on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic. The group—which includes professionals from Rochester, Buffalo and the Southern Tier—is raising funds to provide meals to oncology clinics, emergency departments and first responders.

Pharma Phriends launched on March 27 and has raised more than $2,000, so far providing 300 meals to health care workers in Rochester, Dansville, Clifton Springs and Jamestown. Debra Paul, who previously worked at the University of Rochester as a nurse practitioner, is spearheading the Rochester initiative. It aims to not only show support for those on the health care front lines, but also help local restaurants and caterers. It is not uncommon for physicians, nurses and paramedics to skip meals during a shift or a crisis situation to focus on the task at hand.

For Paul and her friends, this is personal. The people she worked with are some of her closest friends, she says, noting that many of these health care workers are quarantining themselves from their families to avoid bringing the virus home.

The Beacon posed a few questions to Paul. Her answers are below.

ROCHESTER BEACON: What is Pharma Phriends? Why did you decide to launch this initiative?

DEBRA PAUL: Pharma Phriends is a group of industry professionals from Buffalo, Rochester and the Southern Tier who enjoy giving back to their communities and paying it forward. During this health care crisis, we found that we really wanted to make a difference, give back and support our local health care providers and front-line responders. The goal of our campaign is to raise funds to provide area health care teams in Western New York meals while also utilizing another group that has been hit hard with this pandemic: local restaurants. I saw a group similar to ours in the Pittsburgh area and reached out to the organizer and shared my desire to help in my local area and started Pharma Phriends.

I am a nurse practitioner who was on the front lines in clinical practice until I accepted a medical science liaison position with a global biopharmaceutical company in the fall of 2016. I can only imagine what these health care teams are going through during this time and wanted to be there for them in a practical way. 

ROCHESTER BEACON: Who is involved in making this happen?

PAUL: My “Phriends” that are working with me on this initiative are: Jeanne Magavern in Orchard Park, Linda Gibbs in Pittsford, Amy Stevens in Big Flats and Lisa Koellner in Orchard Park, and, of course, all of the very generous donors that have graciously given to this cause.

ROCHESTER BEACON: What are your expectations of this effort? Do you expect this to grow amid the coronavirus crisis?

PAUL: Our goal is simply to let our health care teams know that we appreciate them—always, and especially during this time when the stakes are so high, and their efforts are so needed! As long as this crisis continues, and we have funds to supply meals, that’s what we will do! I know from our efforts, groups have also started with some of my other colleagues in Tampa, Fla., and in Boise, Idaho. The week of April 6 we provided meals every day to health care teams delivering over 300 meals in the Rochester, Dansville, Clifton Springs and Jamestown areas.

ROCHESTER BEACON: Some of the people on the front lines are former colleagues of yours. What are some of your concerns as they battle this and how do you think the community should respond?

PAUL: When you are a health care provider, the people that you work with are more than just colleagues—they are your family! The people that I have worked with in every area of my health care career continue to be some of my closest friends and are definitely part of my family. I know what they are sacrificing in light of this health care crisis—many are quarantining themselves from their families with their children at other homes so they don’t potentially bring home the virus to their loved ones. Many (also) are now the sole income earners for their families, many are being moved to other areas of health care that they may not be familiar with as they fill in personnel gaps, and many are concerned about keeping themselves safe with at times lack of safety equipment. With these concerns, they continue to rise and face this challenge on a daily basis, continuing to provide expert care to their patients in these difficult times. Each one of them is a true hero—who, in the face of this dangerous COVID-19 crisis, combats adversity in many forms through feats of ingenuity, courage and strength.

Smriti Jacob is Rochester Beacon managing editor. All Rochester Beacon coronavirus articles are collected here.

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