Dr. Brandon White is a hospitalist at UAB Medical West. He’s also the founder of BHMcares, a brand-new nonprofit he created with the goal of supporting both local businesses and healthcare workers during the pandemic. Find out how this Birmingham physician has managed his regular job while starting this new initiative — and learn how you can support his efforts.
Where did the idea for BHMcares come from, and how quickly were you able to get it launched?
The idea spawned from having a lot of friends in the restaurant and service industry as well as healthcare coworkers. Seeing the concern from the restaurants and their staff right now really spurred me into thinking of a way I could help them as well as fill the void of not being able to eat regularly at work. From the time of inception to going live was about three days, and we have continued to evolve and adapt to the amazing response we have received.
Were you working at the same time as getting this started?
Yes, I continue to work a full schedule in the ICU and hospital as well as doing telemedicine in the evenings and functioning as a medical director for Alabama Hospice Care, Birmingham 24/7.
Why is BHMcares so important to you?
The restaurants have been put into a very hard situation that they have no control over, and my coworkers and me similarly are in a position where oftentimes, we don’t have a choice of whether we can stop what we’re doing to eat. It was a no brainer to look for a solution to both of those problems.
In regards to your work as a physician, describe what a typical workday is like for you now vs. pre-COVID-19?
The day to day work hasn’t changed so much as the amount of time it takes to do it. There are always sick patients who need help; now it’s just a lot more difficult and stressful to provide it to them.
What has been the most meaningful or life-
changing experience you have had during the pandemic so far — either with a patient, a family, volunteer outreach, etc.?
My BHMcares project honestly has been one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done in my life, much less during the pandemic. I am blown away by the support and offers of help we continue to receive every day. I never imagined it would get so much attention and the outpouring would be so amazing. I’m not a native of Birmingham, or even Alabama for that matter, but after working here as a traveling doctor a few times, I knew it was the kind of place that would rise to whatever challenge was presented. I’m not from here, but I’m proud to call Birmingham home.
Is there anything the general population can do to better support workers on the frontline?
The best thing the general public can do is please, please stick to the social distancing and stay at home. That’s the only way we will slow this, and the people are doing a wonderful job but we must remain vigilant. Donating to BHMcares doesn’t hurt either as it keeps so many of my coworkers across the city fed.
What is the most important thing you want the general population to know about the work healthcare professionals are doing right now?
The most important thing for the public to know and understand, I think, is just how much the people at the front are sacrificing for the greater good. They are coming to work and putting themselves at the tip of the spear in times that no one alive today has seen before.
What is the one thing you look most forward to when we’re past COVID-19?
I’m most looking forward to going to Eugene’s Hot Chicken and having a 2-piece white and not having to wait for it to be delivered. Ha!
Thank you, Dr. White. To learn more about BHMcares and how you can support the initiative, visit bhmcares.com.
Mariam Fakhar was due to graduate from nursing school at Belmont University on May 2, but like so many other planned events, the ceremony has been canceled due to COVID-19. What’s more, with hospitals seeing more and more COVID cases, Mariam was unable to complete her clinical hours in the hospital setting. Around the same time, TEMA and the Tennessee Department of Health were fielding upwards of 3,000 calls a day from concerned Tennesseans with questions; there were only three workers to answer those calls. Suddenly, Belmont nursing students — including Mariam — had a way to complete their hours. And while she won’t be walking across the stage or getting pinned in a pinning ceremony next month, Mariam’s final hours of clinical work provided an unexpected and surprisingly life-changing experience for which she is eternally grateful. Get to know this new and compassionate medical professional, and find out the amazing behind-the-scenes work being done on a daily basis for the benefit of all Tennesseans.
The ability to get your final clinical hours was hindered when COVID began to show up more heavily at area hospitals. At the same time, there was an increased need for medical professionals at your local call center. How did you and other nursing students get involved?
The call center opened up because the state’s other call center only had three people, and they were getting 3,000 calls a day. They weren’t meeting state needs, so they asked for help from the nursing schools and if anyone could come out and help. They wanted nurses [to answer hotline calls] because we’re trained in therapeutic communication — listening to what people had to say when they called for information about what’s going on. They asked for people to volunteer — it was a way for us to get the hours and see another side of what patient care can look like. It took a few days to work out the kinks to accept that large call volume, but we were able to meet the need.
How many hours did you complete in the call center?
I completed a total of 72 hours with the call center. From the very beginning, I had the opportunity to see the call center come up and start working. I started on Thursday two weeks ago, and it was just an interesting experience the first two days to see what it took to get it up and running. We did trials and practice to find out how we could take a large volume of calls. The last three days, I had the chance to connect with patients and discuss their concerns.
What was a typical shift at the call center like?
I’d sign in, get a badge and be assigned a table. We took calls whenever they came in, and we had different sheets of information with frequently asked questions and current statistics. People were more concerned about what they should do [if they had been exposed], and the best advice we offered was to contact their primary care physician first. For people without health insurance or a primary care physician, we provided a list of free clinics that were testing and gave more information on that. We kept it less clinical and more about resources that they needed.
What was the most impactful part of this experience?
One of the big takeaways I got to experience was that in nursing, we learn about patient-centered care and not just doing things clinically for the patients. It’s not just giving meds, but also being culturally competent and centering the care around the patients. While I wasn’t able to look at the patient, I was able to ask them how they were dealing with it and hear their concerns. My communication skills definitely improved and impacted my care in taking a step back and seeing what kind of feelings the patients were experiencing. I feel like sometimes that gets missed.
What was the most memorable call you fielded while working at the call center?
I had one patient who called and was struggling with the fact she was diagnosed with a terminal illness, and her son, who was a pastor, was planning to have her church come pray over her. He had traveled out of state and couldn’t come over, and she didn’t have much time left. I empathized with her, and we got creative. We determined she could have a smaller group come over and stand outside. She could sit on her couch facing the window and have the window open, and they could be there but keep distancing standards. It was really sad — life still goes on when a pandemic is happening, so the best thing we can do is plan alternative solutions.
Is there anything the general population can do to better support healthcare workers?
The whole idea that essential workers go to work for patients, so people can stay at home for us. As the numbers continue to rise, people can take the guidelines a bit more seriously and do their part while we do ours.
What is the one thing you look most forward to when we’re past COVID-19?
Getting to reconnect with the people we haven’t been able to connect with. I’m sad I missed out on getting to finish classes with friends, but that meet up when the wave passes, and we’re able to see each other — it will be worth the wait. It’s like the saying, “You don’t know what you’ve got till you’ve lost it.”
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
The people at TEMA and the TN Dept of Health … getting to see it from the other side, they work endlessly and tirelessly to get information out to the public and to provide a safe haven to have this call center. It goes under-recognized. The people working on that are amazing — they do their best, and they should be recognized.
Thank you, and congrats, Mariam!
Danielle Rhodes, of Helene, AL, is a biomedical engineer by trade and is a civilian contractor for the U.S. Army. But the mom of three is now — like many of us dividing her time between work and homeschooling. But she’s also spending whatever free time she has left sewing masks for healthcare providers at Brookwood Baptist Medical Center. Find out more about this frontline hero who is providing essential tools to those who need them most.
What led you to start sewing these mask covers, and why specifically for Brookwood?
I saw the shortage of PPE and wanted to do something. And since Brookwood is where my three babies were born, and I went through conception and fertility treatments there too, I jumped on the project — it was something local that allowed us to serve our community.
How did you know where to start?
I started doing research on my own. I also have a nurse friend, and I asked what do you need and what can you use — I didn’t want to make things that weren’t going to be useful. She put me in touch with a group — Bham Face Masks — and when I went on there, I saw what they were posting about the need and what to do.
How many mask covers have you created so far?
I have done 250 mask covers so far. The first one took the longest, but now I can do about 25-50 a day if I have time. I have a goal of 100 per week. I’m in a small group with some more accomplished sewers than I am, and they offer tips that have helped.
We chain them together instead of doing them one at a time — you sew them in a line so you don’t have to keep cutting string. The term would be chain sewing. I didn’t know that term not being a sewer, but that’s what it’s called.
You say you’re not a sewer — is this the first time you’ve sewn something?
When my grandmother passed, she had an old 1951 Singer, and I told my mom I wanted it. I restored it and rewired it, and I have been doing little projects with it — a hem or something sewn on a dress.
Are the kids getting involved in the effort?
I thought it was a good opportunity to teach my oldest how to use a sewing machine. She got a little machine for Christmas, and my mother-in-law taught her a few tricks, so all the straight seaming on the masks she’s doing. And then my 6-year-old is making the ties out of t-shirts — if you cut strips of t-shirts and pull them, the edges roll in on themselves so you don’t have to put a seam in them.
What has been the most impactful part of this experience on your life?
Just the fact I am making something that is helpful is just amazing to me — and being able to do it with my children. They’re getting a kick out of it, and it’s teaching them a lesson of just jumping in and doing something.
Learn more about this initiative at the Bham Face Masks Facebook group HERE. workers workers workers
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