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COVID Tech Connect unites critically ill, isolated COVID-19 patients with their families

June 16, 2020

By Deborah O’Neil

BOSTON — The long stream of messages from individual donors on the Giving Dignity fundraising page say so much.

“Contributing again because no one should ever die without a chance for final goodbyes to/from loved ones.”

“I donated because I was there for each of my parents at their death. It breaks my heart that family members and loved ones cannot be at the sides of Covid-19 patients during their final days and hours.”

“The lonely deaths of many have by far made me the most emotional about this pandemic. Thank you for doing this!”

Sara Rodell, one of the founders of COVID Tech Connect, appeared on MSNBC to discuss the effort to get smart devices into hospitals around the country so patients with COVID-19 can talk to their families.

This spring, as the country began facing the painful reality of people dying alone from COVID-19 in hospitals and senior care facilities, a group of women leaders launched a rapid-response project to reconnect hospitalized, critically ill patients to their families via smart devices. With the devices, patients and families can spend their final hours together.

The all-volunteer group called themselves COVID Tech Connect. To date, they have shipped more than 4,300 smart devices to 200+ hospitals, senior care and hospice facilities around the country. 

“We said, ‘This is a problem we can solve,’ ” said attorney Anjali Kumar, one of the volunteers. “We all come from tech and we saw this as a place where tech is uniquely suited to help.”

The project began when Sara Rodell, the CEO of Loop and Tie, a customer gifting platform, heard from a friend who was looking for tablets to give to New York nurses caring for COVID-19 patients. Many patients did not have personal devices or, due to their condition, they couldn’t charge or give access to medical staff on the devices they did have. Loved ones were barred from visiting them and people were dying alone.

Rodell realized that through Loop and Tie’s fulfillment center, she could scale an initiative to get tablets into hospitals. She assembled a team of women who wanted to help. Within less than two weeks they had coordinated with hospitals, launched a GoFundMe page, collected tablets, and were shipping them out to hospitals in COVID hotspots like New York City.

Katie Stanton, Founder and General Partner of Moxxie Ventures, was one of the women to join the effort. For her, the work was personal. “My father was in a nursing home and I was really scared he would get COVID,” she said. 

Her worst nightmare came true. Her father contracted COVID-19 and passed away in early April.

Like so many other family members devastated by the virus, Stanton could not be with her father at the end. One of his caregivers brought an iPad to work so the family could connect and say goodbye. “In these moments you can tell someone how much they are loved,” Stanton said. “We zoomed in with the family priest and he delivered last rites. I cannot even tell you how comforting that felt for us. I’m so grateful the caregiver did that. We were lucky he had a device and the compassion to help us.”

Support for COVID Tech Connect has come from nearly 2,000 individual donors, foundations like the Patrick J. McGovern Foundation, corporations and the tech industry. Recently, Ellen DeGeneres featured COVID Tech Connect when Shutterfly contributed $25,000 for the effort.

As the country heads into summer, COVID-19 deaths are beginning to surge in some states and experts warn that a second wave of infections may come this fall. The COVID Tech Connect Team is still trying to get tablets where they are needed. The goal is to raise $1 million in order to ship 20,000 devices. 

These goodbye conversations are so important for not only the person that is passing away but their friends and family and also the health-care providers,” Rodell said in an MSNBC interview. “As these health-care providers are pushed to their limit working beyond normal hours with beyond normal emotional experiences, being able to have these conversations is a moment of healing we all need right now.”