New COVID-19 fund to aid families of felled POC health care workers

Submitted photo Peaches Goodridge mother was health care worker died from COVID

Effort the brainchild of the U of of M’s Dr. Michael Osterholm

Peaches Goodridge misses her mom. She is among many who has lost a loved one who worked in the healthcare industry and died due to COVID-19. 

A newly incorporated charity Frontline Families Fund seeks to raise money to offset financial burdens incurred by families of felled health care workers during the pandemic.

The 27-year-old bank employee said she remembers a time when she and her mother, Pastor Larrydean Goodridge, would talk every day. Larrydean, a 45-year-old phlebotomist at North Memorial Health Hospital, would often talk to her daughter about the prayer lines she would start for patients and colleagues, especially during the pandemic. 

“It was because her faith was so strong that nothing fazed her,” Peaches said. “Whatever was wrong, she took it to God in prayer so [working during the pandemic] was not a problem for her. She would talk to me: ‘Peaches, there’s an outbreak in this entire family. Nothing is going to happen to anybody in this family. Nobody’s going to be touched by COVID.’”

Unfortunately, on June 1, Peaches received a very different phone call—from her father this time—informing her that her mother had died in the same hospital she had been calling on God to watch over. 

Peaches had managed to take the news in stride, but she was soon faced with another harsh reality—the financial burden. As one of Larrydean’s oldest children, Peaches quickly became the head of her mother’s household in Minneapolis, assuming responsibility for her mother’s mortgage payments and medical bills, as well as the bills for her mother’s house and her own lifestyle in Mesa, Arizona.

“It was insane,” she said. “I’m still not entirely sure what exactly I’m going to do just yet with all of this.”

As the family of the more than 1,400 United States’ health care workers who have died due to COVID-19, Peaches initially applied for some grants, with little success. She said the overly complicated and extensive application processes often made it too strenuous to work through.

The Frontline Families Fund might just be the answer to her prayers. The fund is the brainchild of Dr.  Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota. He, along with the St. Paul & Minnesota Foundation, hopes to raise money for the families of health care workers who have died due to COVID-19. 

Courtesy of the U of M Dr. Michael Osterholm

According to Dr. Osterholm, the goal is to aid the families of “the real superheroes of the pandemic,” by helping with funeral costs, medical bills, college scholarships or any other expense a family might need help with. 

“Early on in the pandemic, we saw an increasing number of healthcare workers who were dying, leaving behind families that not only were suffering the loss of their loved one, but also in many cases had real economic challenges,” he said. “It was a way to give back to these people who have given so much, and I just wanted to help however I could.”

He said another main goal of the fund is to highlight and address the racial and socioeconomic disparities ravaging BIPOC health care workers across the country. 

Larrydean is just one of nearly 1,400 who have died due to the virus. Originally from Liberia, she belongs to the almost one in five health care workers who are immigrants and the over 25% who are Black women.

BIPOC health care workers—especially women—have been further endangered by the shortage of personal protection equipment (PPE). An often deadly combination, these workers are 20% more likely than White health care workers to care for COVID-19 patients and they are more likely to report inadequate PPE. 

Though it is unknown where she contracted the virus, Larrydean’s case prompted an investigation from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration regarding whether or not she and her colleagues were provided adequate PPE during their time at the hospital.

A Kaiser Health analysis of deaths among health care workers found that 62% were People of Color, while a survey by National Nurses United has found that while only a quarter of nurses in the U.S. are People of Color, nurses of color account for half the deaths among nurses to COVID-19.

According to Kaiser Health, health care workers of color are nearly twice as likely to contract the virus as their White counterparts. 

“Our goal is to take care of these families,” Dr. Osterholm said. “We can’t make it right. What has happened here is forever, and it’s so painful. But we can do something to help.”

The funds—which will be distributed on a rolling basis as they are received with the help of the Brave of Heart Fund—will be distributed based on need, with grantees receiving about $10,000. A second, need-based grant with a focus on BIPOC families is intended to support awareness about those racial health disparities. 

The fund will begin administering scholarships in 2021. 

Jeremy Wells, the St. Paul & Minnesota Foundation’s senior vice president of philanthropic services, understands what it means to lose a loved one to COVID-19. “I think all of us have a personal story about how we’ve been impacted by COVID,” Wells said. “Throughout all of those stories are the brave healthcare workers who have put themselves in harm’s way to care for our loved ones. … And so I think we need to do whatever we can to support their families, because they’ve been surrounded by such strain and sorrow.”

As of Monday, the fund has raised over $320,000 from over a thousand individual donors. 

Peaches said she intends to apply to the Frontline Fund to help ease some of the financial burden she’s taken on since her mother’s death. Of course, it doesn’t help her miss her mom any less. 

“I miss her every day,” Peaches said. “Every time I’m driving somewhere or doing something and I remember when I spoke to her probably doing that same thing prior, I think about her. It’s just grief and disbelief that this could have happened, at this point.”