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UConn Grad Co-Founds Medical Supply Clearinghouse

An N95 mask is a respiratory protective device designed to achieve a very close facial fit and very efficient filtration of airborne particles. The edges of the respirator are designed to form a seal around the nose and mouth.

Hospitals all over the country are in desperate need of personal protective gear. Many private citizens have stepped in with ideas to help. Nadav Ullman is one of those citizens. He’s a web developer and University of Connecticut alumnus, who co-founded a national medical supply clearinghouse for hospitals in need of scarce N95 masks and ventilators. 

Right now, Ullman works in the Bay Area’s tech industry. 

“I’m actually calling from Connecticut,” Ullman tells WSHU. He came home to Fairfield County for a wedding a few weeks ago. He decided to stay when his adopted city of San Francisco asked residents to shelter in place. Then, hospital workers he knew began to tell him they lacked protection.

“I’m hearing these stories from friends, from family,” Ullman says, “‘we’re out of masks.’ Some of the biggest healthcare organizations in the world are saying ‘we’re gonna be out in a week.’” 

So he and his friends in tech, health care, and social movement organizations got to work. They wanted to make it easier for hospitals to find medical suppliers. The website, Project N95, was born.

“We put up the website initially thinking, ‘hey, if we can even help just one or two providers’ procurement processes and provide a little bit more transparency in the market, that would be awesome.’” Ullman says, “We really did not expect where it would go from there.”

The group drew buzz almost immediately from celebrities on Twitter: from Mark Cuban, the owner of the Dallas Mavericks, to Andy Slavitt, President Obama’s former head of Medicare and Medicaid.

“Huge organizations started coming behind us and throwing in their support. So it grew really fast, really quickly.”

The website launched on March 20. Since then, at least two thousand medical institutions have used it and requested more than 300 million pieces of equipment. The Connecticut Hospital Association says they have informed their members about Project N95. A spokesperson could not confirm if any have used the service.

For many health care organizations working with Project N95, a big problem is trying to vet the legitimacy of N95 mask makers in other countries.

“The trouble is we don’t have people on the ground, in China, who can say do a spot check for a factory,” Ullman says. “What we do instead is investigate manufacturers as best we can from here. We check FDA certificates, ask for references from suppliers, then we investigate the suppliers to establish that they are indeed legitimate businesses.

Ullman says Project N95 is one solution, because right now, the federal government is not streamlining the medical supply chain.  

“We saw that there was no other organization that was doing this exactly, so we figured that we would step up as a nonprofit org and fill in the gap while it was needed,” Ullman says.

More than 90 professionals in health care, tech and nonprofit sectors have volunteered to work with Project N95. They’re helping to make the way hospitals and local governments buy medical supplies more transparent, and they help stop scammers who take advantage of the demand.

“As we learn more about the industry, we’re constantly evolving and constantly asking ‘hey, what can we do today to help?” Ullman says.

He will likely continue this work from his family’s home in Norwalk, Connecticut. Like everyone else, Ullman can’t predict when it will be safe to fly back to San Francisco.

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Cassandra Basler, a former senior editor at WSHU, came to the station by way of Columbia Journalism School in New York City. When she's not reporting on wealth and poverty, she's writing about food and family.
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