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'Go-Getter' Nurse's Campaign to Donate PPE to Community

As her concerns deepened about the health threat to her fellow nurses and other frontline workers in Southern California amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Cedars-Sinai nurse Tracy Lazaro, MSN, RN, realized she had to take action.

That sparked what has turned into Lazaro's extraordinary campaign in her off-duty hours to collect, make and distribute personal protective equipment (PPE) to try to keep as many people safe as possible.

She has reached out to nursing homes, hospitals, supermarkets and even Black Lives Matters protests, where she has both participated and handed out hand sanitizer, masks and first-aid supplies.

The effort started modestly in March. Lazaro hunted online and found some face shields and N95 masks that she could buy, or could arrange to have donated, for colleagues caring for COVID-19 patients at Cedars-Sinai.

Providing that initial batch of PPE gave Lazaro a sense that, "This is what I need to be doing with my (free) time... I need to be moving. I need to be helping."

Yet Cedars-Sinai was better-stocked for PPE than most healthcare facilities. So, Lazaro threw herself into looking for other places to help.

"There have been so many places that have very little PPE — like to the point where people purchased rain ponchos from Amazon because they couldn't get enough isolation gowns," Lazaro said.

Lazaro formed an organization, which is currently seeking nonprofit status, called PPE Now Los Angeles. She's the whirlwind at the heart of it, but she draws occasional help from her graphic designer brother, friends and new acquaintances. 

Tracy Lazaro, MSN, RN
It might sound cliché, but truly making a difference in even just one person's life is so uplifting and rewarding that you're going to want to do it again. And again, and again and again.
Tracy Lazaro, MSN, RN

Recently, for example, Lazaro received 12,000 non-medical face masks from Starz, the premium cable channel, which said it found PPE Now Los Angeles through social media. Starz "was looking for organizations that were serving the SoCal area, and it was a perfect partnership," Natta Trivimol, a Starz brand marketing manager, said via email.

Trivimol pointed to PPE Now Los Angeles' "dedication and work they do for frontline workers that ranges from grocery store workers to healthcare staff. The passion that Tracy has for her work is very inspiring!"

Lazaro also has spent about $18,000 acquiring supplies. She said she personally put up more than half of that sum, until she maxed out her credit cards. The rest she covered with contributions. 

In addition, Lazaro formed partnerships with groups that have supplied items such as eye goggles and hand sanitizer.

She has commissioned people to sew isolation gowns and masks. Boxes of PPE sometimes pile up at Lazaro's house in Whittier, the hub of her operation.

Overall, Lazaro estimates, she has distributed about 13,000 PPE items to nursing homes and hospitals in Los Angeles and Orange counties.

Lazaro also has taken donations such as the Starz non-medical masks to supermarkets and other big box retailers. Sometimes she’ll simply show up, explain that she wants to donate protective gear and then hand out the items to grateful employees.

Other recipients of Lazaro’s largesse have been healthcare organizations such as ChapCare, a chain of healthcare centers in the San Gabriel Valley. Steven Abramson, ChapCare's chief operations officer, said Lazaro provided face shields, masks, goggles, disinfectants and hand sanitizers.

"These are all very critical items for us that we're utilizing on a daily basis to make sure that our staff have the appropriate personal protective equipment," Abramson said.

The effort that Lazaro puts into PPE Now Los Angeles came as no surprise to her manager, Carol Mention, MSN, associate director of 6 North. "Tracy is one of my go-getters," Mention said. "She's very passionate about the community."

Lazaro, 36, the daughter of two physicians, said she started becoming an active volunteer about five years ago. That's when she began serving as a volunteer nurse at Camp del Corazon, a nonprofit group that runs a medically supervised residential summer camp on Catalina Island for children with heart disease.

Early this year, just before the COVID-19 pandemic struck California, she was part of the Cedars-Sinai volunteer group that visited Guatemala to provide surgery and other healthcare services in a program with the nonprofit group HELPS International.

The outlook that guides her, Lazaro said, is that "giving until you're empty actually leaves your heart fuller and your life fulfilled. So why not do what you can to help someone out?

"That definitely motivates me, trying to make the world a better place any way that I can," Lazaro added. "It might sound cliché, but truly making a difference in even just one person's life is so uplifting and rewarding that you're going to want to do it again. And again, and again and again."

Read more on the Cedars-Sinai Blog: A Giving Mission — Cedars-Sinai Community Benefit Program