Moving Mountains to Move Masks

Hawaii high school classmates pull together to get critical PPE to state health care workers

Personal Protective Equipment on a flat surfaceThink globally. Act locally. And never forget your Hawaii roots.

Doing just that was a large part of the driving force behind a large shipment of much-needed personal protective equipment (PPE) recently distributed to Hawaii health care workers thanks to a high school connection shared by Robin Chan, co-founder of national nonprofit Operation Masks, and two of his fellow Punahou School alumni. Its team was comprised of Chan’s friends and entrepreneurs with backgrounds in health care, technology and logistics. Since mid-March, Operation Masks has leveraged the ample business knowledge of its membership to channel PPE, including millions of masks, direct from factories in China to states across the country desperately in need of them.

Knowing that his former home state – largely because of its size and resources – would have relatively low buying power competing with other states for PPE, Chan quickly reached out to his network of friends and former classmates to find a connection in the Hawaii Department of Health (DOH) who could help. That person was DOH Deputy Director of Health and former classmate Cathy Ross, who, as Operation Masks launched, was focused on the State’s COVID-19 response and concerned about having enough PPE for front-line health care workers and first responders.

“Larger markets for medical supplies were just beating us to every purchase,” Ross explained to writer Tara Olney in a recent Punahou magazine feature on the alumni PPE effort. “Cities like New York, with their budget and size, can place a million-dollar order without much worry. Here in Hawaii, we simply don’t have that buying power, and we would be devastated if the masks turned out to be counterfeit or the deal fell through. That’s where Operation Masks came in for us.”

Ross contacted the Hawaii State Procurement Office, which is responsible for purchasing during state emergencies, to assure the deal with Operation Masks got done – a task that eventually tapped State purchasing specialist Shannon Ota, another Punahou alum, for her assistance.

“My colleagues and I had been scouring the Earth, leaving no stone unturned to find PPE to supply front-line health care workers and first responders across the state of Hawaii,” Ota explained to Punahou magazine. “When the information from Cathy came in about a local boy with a line on masks, I was able to learn of fellow alumni Chan and work with him.”

According to Ross, Chan used his Operation Masks connections and leverage with suppliers to secure the deal, verify the quality of the PPE and set favorable terms for DOH. Working together, Chan, Ross and Ota got one of the first orders of critically needed masks out of  Operation Masks into Hawaii and straight out to front-line health personnel with ease and speed.

Said Ross, “We are so unbelievably relieved to have (Operation Masks) support.” Our mahalo to the three classmates and everyone involved for getting the deal done. To learn more about the work being done by Operation Masks and lend your support, visit www.operationmasks.org.

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