COVID-19 has brought new unexpected challenges to our societies. The situation requires quick reaction and adaptation, as well as cross-border collaboration to best tackle it. To shine a light on collaborative initiatives that can serve as an inspiration for other communities and organisations worldwide, we spoke to  Medicover Foundation the main Queen Silvia Nursing Award Poland partner. As an active NGO supporting health and encouraging a healthy lifestyle in Poland, we asked them to share with us the initiatives they are a part of. The range of activities varies from supporting individuals who are voluntarily sewing protective masks for medical staff to large collaborations between different organisations building regional quarantine centres and launching a national emotional support helpline for lonely elderly people. Please read an interview with Marcin Radziwiłł, the President of Medicover Foundation, to learn more.

Can you tell about the current citation in Poland with regards to COVID-19?

The government has been strict when  enforcing the stay home rule. We started working from home in the second week of March. At that time, various restrictions regarding people’s behaviour were very much enforced by the authorities. So for several weeks you couldn’t leave the house unless you were going to grocery shop, to the pharmacy, to the doctor, to take a dog for a walk, or if you had to go to your workplace. People walking in groups of more than two were not allowed. Furthermore, we all had to wear protective masks when we left the house. So I would say the government has been very vigilant in making sure that there is no dramatic spread of the virus. The statistics of people infected and deaths has been quite good if you compare the figures with those of other countries. The government has been noticeably proactive.

Now, we are experiencing a loosening of the rules. The government is slowly trying to open up or loosen restrictions, but they are also monitoring the situation carefully so that they can react quickly if things start going the wrong way. I think they’ve done a good job.

Contribution of society in supporting the healthcare system plays an important role. I know that the Medicover Foundation is highly involved in various activities. Can you tell a little bit about it? And how those initiatives started?

These initiatives occurred as an empathetic reaction rather than a thought-through strategy. We decided to contribute and strengthen projects that already exist instead of trying to set things up or do things in parallel. We believe that working together on sensible projects is the way to move forward.

As a foundation with many relationships and networks, we were able to understand very quickly what support was needed and then we helped or joined in with things that were already taking place. 

For example, at the very beginning of the virus outbreak, some of our employees were sent home and everyone was mobilized.

There was a complete lack of masks in the country, there was nothing on the market, so our employees and other people started sewing handmade masks. This happened in the very first days when no one knew what to do.

We heard that one of the employees was sewing masks with her daughter but she did not have a particular institution to support. We also found out that an infant rescue centre that we’d been working with for many years had a lack of supplies. So we suggested our employee help this centre as well as we hired other ladies to make even more protective masks. The centre is helping new-borns and babies up to one-year-old that were either left by their mothers in hospitals or had to be picked up by the social services from families. Quite often these babies have medical conditions or are in bad health and need rehabilitation. We’ve been supporting this centre for many years in various ways, such as  renovations or laboratory testing. We tried to see what kind of help was most needed in this case. 

Then, we found out that another infant centre that we support has masks, but they need other supplies. So we started contacting our friends and partners, and together with them, we got visors, aprons, surgical gloves, disinfectants and  washing and cleaning materials. We even found people with 3D printers and encouraged them to donate printed protective shields. In these cases, we were just using our connections to connect people who can help those in need. 

3D printed protective face shields

Similarly, we found out that a hospital of infectious diseases in Wroclaw needed masks and protective face shields urgently. We bought all the required materials and hired several women to sew masks as well as contacted students from Wroclaw Medical University to produce plastic protective shields via 3D printers. 

As a foundation, we do not have huge funds. For this reason, we want to work smart in quickly reacting to the needs to be addressed here and now. We know that the sufficient amount of supplies will be organized by the government in the future, so it’s reacting to the need until the problem is solved that is important. These were the sort of partisan actions needed in the very beginning of the outbreak. 

Another initiative was to provide food to hospital medical staff so that nurses and doctors did not need to leave the building, saving their time and energy. We came up with an idea to start a collaboration with local restaurants – we would buy the ingredients as the raw materials and the restaurants would cook and deliver food to nurses on the front-line. This was a way of showing appreciation as well as keeping everyone safe, just through the supply of food. This project is running successfully and we are trying to expand it and keep it running longer through collaboration with a supermarket chain with more resources. 

Well, it’s very good to utilise the resources you have. You have a good network of different organizations and people, and you contribute a lot by starting new collaborations.

Yes, I agree. One more good example is a project that was implemented in 35 different towns to set up quarantine centres around the country. There were various business organisations donating items such as beds, sheets, towels or providing financial support. We as a foundation don’t have huge resources, but we have connections and manpower. So we organized all the logistics needed to set up the quarantine centres. We created the logistics plan, we managed to get a distribution company to join and help us with transportation and we found volunteers to build and prepare all the beds needed for quarantine centres. In this way, we contributed through our work and our connections. It is not always money that is needed. It is sometimes just being inventive, reactive and motivated. 

Preparing quarantine centres in different towns of Poland

As you were saying, all these activities were a quick response to what was happening. Activities of Medicover Foundation has changed dramatically during these weeks. How does it feel for you as the head of the organization? How does the team react?

My team is extremely flexible and focuses on doing meaningful and important work. That is our main focus and the main guiding principle. We use available resources and means. To us, this is enthusiasm, hard work, entrepreneurialism, can-do attitude and attempting to make sure that all the programs make sense and help.

We have done this before. We have certain programs that we do continuously but there are also a lot of things that happen ad hoc or when there is a need for support and help. So, we always react. It is in our DNA!

One special project that I would like to lift, is a new helpline to support lonely elderly people. The loneliness of the elderly is also one of the main issues addressed by participants of Queen Silvia Nursing Award Poland. Can you tell a bit more about this project and how Medicover Foundation is contributing to it?

We became aware of this initiative at the very beginning. It’s the initiative of a young person who decided that she wanted to help lonely elderly people who are cut-off and having to stay at home, to have somewhere to call if they need support or just a chat. We, together with the Polish Society of Gerontology, one of the partners of the Queen Silvia Nursing Award Poland, saw it as a serious undertaking and realised that it could offer valuable support for the elderly. We saw that helpline operations were being created and there were many people offering to work as volunteers to talk with the elderly. However, one area that they completely lacked was the possibility of getting the message out to elderly people. So we joined the project as a partner to spread the word in Poland and recruit seniors. We have a large network to reach the elderly – through our employees, through Medicover health centres’ employees, who live and work across the country, through our partners and our media contacts.  We are in the process of putting a communication strategy together to communicate this even further. This is a new project that is springing into life and we are looking forward to the first results. 

Thank you for sharing activities Medicover Foundation is organising in Poland. That could, for sure, be an inspiration for many other organisations!

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