MINNEAPOLIS — A new national fund announced Monday aims to raise millions of dollars for families of the nearly 1,400 U.S. health care workers who have died from COVID-19.

The St. Paul & Minnesota Foundation and Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, teamed up to create the Frontline Families Fund to help pay funeral costs and other expenses or college scholarships for children of the health care workers.

"These people put their lives on the line, day after day after day, into harm's way. They are the real heroes of this entire pandemic response," said Osterholm, an epidemiologist who was recently appointed to President-elect Joe Biden's coronavirus task force. "We need hope right now."

As of Monday, of the more than 220,000 coronavirus cases in Minnesota, nearly 18,000 are infected health care workers, though state health experts believe a very small proportion can be linked to exposure at work. At least nine health care workers have died.

So far, the fund has drawn about $14,000, but they hope to raise "millions of dollars," Osterholm said. Each grantee will receive $10,000 to cover funeral expenses or other general expenses.

"This is a national effort but so much of it started right here in Minnesota and we have the opportunity to again demonstrate generosity here in Minnesota that can really cascade across the country and help families," said Jeremy Wells, the St. Paul & Minnesota Foundation's senior vice president of philanthropic services.

The amount for college scholarships has not yet been determined. Grantees are also eligible for a second grant of up to $60,000, with a focus on supporting people of color and those with the highest socioeconomic needs. The fund is intended to boost awareness about racial disparities, with Black, Indigenous and other people of color disproportionately infected by coronavirus.

A University of Minnesota study this year found that Black people account for 25% of COVID-19 hospitalizations but 7% of the state's population, while Hispanic people make up 16% of hospitalizations and 6% of the population.

While many hospitals, corporations or other foundations have started funds to help health care workers in the U.S., Wells said no funds have had a national reach and zeroed in on racial inequities.

"We want to raise more money then these organizations have been able to raise. We want to create more awareness," Wells said. "These families need our help."

Go to frontlinefamiliesfund.org for more details or to donate. The fund was Osterholm's idea and he has contributed an undisclosed amount. Scholarship America will administer the college scholarships starting in 2021 and the Brave of Heart Fund — which started this year to provide grants to families of health care workers who lost their lives to COVID-19 — will help to distribute the grants to families. Wells said the grants will be doled out to families as donations come in.

"We are now in the most dangerous public health moment in this country since 1918," Osterholm said. "And it really is a situation where health care workers are the ultimate shock absorber for so many medical, sociologic and economic issues."


(c)2020 Star Tribune (Minneapolis)

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