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U of M doctor launches fund for fallen health care workers

"I encourage everyone to be generous," says epidemiologist. "If you have the means to help, please do."

Dr. Michael Osterholm.jpg
Dr. Michael Osterholm, infectious disease expert from the University of Minnesota. University of Minnesota photo
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ROCHESTER, Minn. — Saying "this pandemic is so terrible we need a pandemic of caring to take it on," noted University of Minnesota epidemiologist Dr. Michael Osterholm on Monday, Nov. 16, announced the launch of Frontline Families Fund , a Minnesota-based, nationwide fund drive for families of fallen health care workers.

The new charity is intended to provide $10,000 immediate cash assistance to applicant families who have lost a loved one who was a health care worker to COVID-19, as well as to establish a scholarship fund up to $60,000 for each surviving child. It is a joint effort with the Saint Paul & Minnesota Foundation.

"Over 1,400 health care workers in this country have now died of COVID-19," said Osterholm. "These people put their lives on the line day after day after day, into harm's way. They are the heroes of this entire pandemic response, in ways I don't think we will fully appreciate until well after this pandemic has passed."

Osterholm said the fund will be administered under the direction of the New York-based Brave of Heart Fund, saving overhead costs. It seeks to draw attention to the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on Black Indigenous and people of color in the health care workforce.

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Currently, 1,400 health care workers nationally are known to have died from COVID-19, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, although not all contracted it on the job.

The fund will have two phases, with the first being non-need based and structured for offering families who apply an immediate $10,000 grant to cover expenses including funeral costs, "or for anything those families go through," Osterholm said.

"It's there for whether a loved one passed away last week or several months ago."

With a baseline goal to give each family $10,000, the fund would need to raise $14 million for the first phase.

The second phase will seek to provide scholarships based on socioeconomic need, up to $60,000 per recipient for whatever higher education they choose. A goal would be for every fallen health care worker family to be able to get a phase one and phase two grant of some size.

Monday's announcement, timed to follow a kickoff on "CBS This Morning," was intended to mark the start of months of visibility-raising events. Osterholm said the fund is determined to raise up health care workers in their darkest hour.

"My hope that we can raise millions of dollars for these families of frontline workers who've lost their lives to covid-19," he said. "They were there to support us through this pandemic. Now they've left behind loved ones, in many cases in dire financial straits. We can't change what's happened, but it's our job as a society to be there to help support them."

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Those who wish to help can donate at www.frontlinefamiliesfund.org. No donation is too small, Osterholm added.

"Even a dime or a nickel — do it as an individual, as a family, as a business or as any entity you can to help support this. I can promise the fiduciary oversight will be remarkable. I am so impressed with the activities of the Saint Paul & Minnesota Foundation, what they do and how they do it. This will result in direct support for these families."

"As we have saluted our soldiers who have defended our country, these health care workers have almost done the same thing. They are putting their life on the line, and they are asking for nothing other than wages. We can do more, especially for those who have lost a loved one."

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  • Minnesota Department of Health COVID-19 hotline: 651-201-3920.
  • COVID-19 discrimination hotline: 833-454-0148
  • Minnesota Department of Health COVID-19 website: Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) website .

Paul John Scott is the health correspondent for NewsMD and the Forum News Service. He is a novelist and was an award winning magazine journalist for 15 years prior to joining the FNS in 2019.
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