Promoting a Real-Time Response
AIDS HEALTHCARE FOUNDATION (AHF) President Michael Weinstein was watching HBO’s “Real Time with Bill Maher” on Feb. 28 when he saw an interview that compelled him to act.
Anne Rimoin, professor of epidemiology at the Fielding School, was sharing her insights on the COVID-19 pandemic. There were fewer than two dozen known cases in the U.S. at the time, and the nation’s first confirmed COVID-19 death wouldn’t be reported until the next day. But Rimoin, an internationally renowned expert on emerging infectious diseases, recognized that these numbers were likely to quickly escalate. And when Weinstein heard her speaking about the burgeoning pandemic and a study she hoped to conduct on COVID-19 transmission among health care workers, he took steps to ensure that AHF’s financial support would make Rimoin’s important work possible.
“I was impressed with Dr. Rimoin,” Weinstein says. “Her expertise and grasp of the enormity of the public health threat that COVID-19 presents, particularly to health care providers, was considerable.”
AHF was joined early by a group of key funders that helped launch the study led by Rimoin, along with colleagues at FSPH and the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA (led by Dr. Grace Aldrovandi), to test and track the exposure of health care workers and first responders to COVID-19 (for more on the study, see page 10).
The Elizabeth R. Koch Foundation joined AHF in making an early gift that was instrumental in launching the study at UCLA Health in early April. “Most of my work is in helping people manage emotional pain, and the stress that health care workers were under was clear and urgent,” Elizabeth Koch says. “If we want our health care workers to take care of us, they need to know who among them is infected yet asymptomatic, and who was sick and possibly acquired immunity. When we discovered that Dr. Rimoin and Dr. Aldrovandi were up to exactly that, we rushed to help.”
The Shurl and Kay Curci Foundation and the Steven & Alexandra Cohen Foundation amplified this early seed funding and created considerable momentum, propelling the UCLA Health pilot and ramping up the first-responders arm of the study, which launched with the L.A. County Fire Department in May. Both foundations sought ways to support COVID-19 research and service through a proactive philanthropic approach: The Curci Foundation reached out directly to Rimoin, and the Steven & Alexandra Cohen Foundation connected with existing faculty research partners at UCLA to explore opportunities for rapid response to the growing pandemic.
Rimoin and her team are committed to screening L.A.’s frontline health workforce for as long as possible to ensure their health and safety and to gather scientific evidence that guides plans for social engagement and economic recovery. “Each foundation in this extraordinary group of funders truly shares our sense of urgency and vision for this initiative,” Rimoin says. “They understand the service we are providing speaks to our collective sense of humanity, while the research underscores the importance of our collective investment in public health, the study of emerging infectious diseases and, ultimately, our survival.”