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Grants Emerge for Families Who Lost Healthcare Workers to COVID

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Late last year, many hospital systems, including several in Minnesota, were overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients. Grant programs are now available for the families of staff members who died after contracting the virus. (Adobe Stock)
Late last year, many hospital systems, including several in Minnesota, were overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients. Grant programs are now available for the families of staff members who died after contracting the virus. (Adobe Stock)
 By Mike Moen - Producer, Contact
February 19, 2021

ST. PAUL, Minn. - Healthcare workers have often been called heroes during the pandemic, but their advocates say the sentiment can be quickly forgotten by the public - including in some cases, their deaths. A Minnesota organization is honoring their sacrifice by helping their families.

With the help of infectious-disease expert and Professor Michael Osterholm, the Saint Paul and Minnesota Foundation recently launched the Frontline Families Fund.

It provides emergency grants and scholarships to families of healthcare workers who have died from COVID-19. Jeremy Wells, senior vice-president of philanthropic services with the foundation, said the fund is designed for situations in which the person didn't leave behind a lot of wealth.

"Let's say they were a nursing aide or something that's not a highly paid profession," said Wells, "versus a physician that passed, you know, who had a $5 or $10 million life-insurance policy."

There are two phases for the grants: One provides $15,000 for funeral costs. The second round funds up to $60,000 for long-term expenses.

They're administered by the separate Brave of Heart Fund, which was established with the same mission.

Publications including Kaiser Health News estimate that more than 3,000 U.S. healthcare workers have died from COVID.

Osterholm said despite positive news of declining cases in Minnesota and elsewhere, he predicts the pace of vaccinations won't keep up with the spread of new COVID variants, which creates new daily threats for healthcare workers.

"I think the challenge we have today is just, you know, letting healthcare workers know that if they're coming to work putting their life on the line," said Osterholm, "that we are going to do what we can to take care of their families if something happens to them."

Osterholm - the director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research at the University of Minnesota - added that the U.S. healthcare system needs to be mindful of the long-term effects for workers still on the frontlines.

He said the care they've provided has taken a toll, including on their mental health.

"Many of them have been really challenged with the long hours," said Osterholm, "the number of deaths that they've had to deal with, the serious illnesses."

The foundation says a key component of its effort is to elevate discussion and resources for healthcare workers and families in the racial groups disproportionately affected by COVID-19.

Disclosure: The Saint Paul and Minnesota Foundation contributes to our fund for reporting on Education, Health Issues, Human Rights/Racial Justice, Social Justice. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
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