During a storied legal career, Clyde Bergstresser has become one of the go-to medical malpractice lawyers in Massachusetts. But as COVID-19 cases surged at Boston area hospitals, Bergstresser found his sympathies aligning with the professions he has often fingered in million-dollar lawsuits.
“I’ve made a lot of money suing the health care industry. This seems like a good time to give back,” he said.
Rather than make a personal donation to one of the city’s many hospitals, Bergstresser blitzed the local legal community, corralling support from some of the city’s most prominent attorneys in a new non-profit they are calling, “Lawyers Honoring COVID Caregivers.”
The idea is to use the considerable influence of board members, and a quickly designed website,to raise money for front-line care givers.
Although a variety of recipients could qualify for the funds, Bergstresser said the group is targeting Boston EMS, the city’s ambulance service, and Boston Medical Center, a safety-net hospital that serves the city’s poor.
Norman Stein, the chief development officer at BMC, said the funds are arriving just in time and are likely to be used for a variety of items that don’t normally pop up on the hospital’s budget.
For instance, the hospital is housing nearly 140 staffers at a nearby Hampton Inn so they can be sure they won’t infect family members with the novel coronavirus. The staffers run the professional gamut, from doctors and nurses to maintenance workers, dietitians and medical technicians. And they have been staying at the inn anywhere from two to 50 nights.
“At the end of the day you really want to go home. But should you go home?” Stein asked. “If staffers decide they’d rather not, they can stay at the hotel.”
Another unexpected expense has been food and financial support for some of the 750 staffers, many of them low-wage earners, who were furloughed as the hospital stopped providing elective surgeries and other non-emergency procedures while gearing up for the rush of COVID-19 patients.
At the peak of the surge, which is cresting in Massachusetts, 70 percent of the hospital’s beds were occupied by COVID-19 patients, a higher percentage than at any of Boston’s other hospitals, according to Stein.
At Boston EMS, chief of staff Laura Segal said the lawyers’ interests were “perfectly aligned” with the goals of agency’s Peer Support Unit, which helps EMTs and paramedics who may be traumatized after responding to emergencies.
Pat Calter, the unit coordinator, said it typically helps emergency personnel recover by encouraging them to take time for themselves with meditation, yoga or a physical workout, and by relying on the support of their fellow EMTs and paramedics. “There needs to be guidance, there needs to be support and there needs to be a safety net, and we provide all three,” he said.
Calter said the funds coming from the lawyers are especially welcome because it is expected that when the pandemic eases, EMTs and paramedics will show the effects of the strain under which they’ve been living.
“Members are out there burning the candle at both ends. They’re going to fall hard, and we need to lessen the blow and soften the landing,” he said.
While nonstop global news about the effects of the coronavirus have become commonplace, so, too, are the stories about the kindness of strangers and individuals who have sacrificed for others. “One Good Thing” is an AP continuing series reflecting these acts of kindness.
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