Dr. Sanjeev Sriram Co-Founds Organization Distributing Masks to Health Workers

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For Chase Brexton Health Care doctor who styles himself “Dr. America,” it’s only appropriate that he needed a team-up to be a hero to many fellow health care workers.

Dr. Sanjeev Sriram, a pediatrician at Chase Brexton’s Glen Burnie Center, has a long history of advocacy, including a stint with We Act Radio where he was a health justice correspondent known as “Dr. America.”

As the COVID-19 pandemic threatened to overwhelm the nation’s health care system in March 2020, Dr. Sriram was approached by a friend who is a D.C.-based community organizer, Kristin Mink. The two joined with Bob Bland, a fashion designer, women’s rights activist and one of the National Co-Chairs of the Women's March on Washington, and Edgardo Miranda-Rodriguez, a graphic novelist and humanitarian, to form Masks4America, dedicated to providing protective equipment to front-line healthcare workers.

Since forming in March 2020, the organization has delivered more than 850,000 items of PPE to health care workers across the country, including Chase Brexton.

Dr. Sriram says the group possessed an ideal combination of talents, including Mink’s organizational abilities, Bland’s talent in logistics and moving items through customs. To that, he added his own knowledge of the health care industry and navigating large health care organizations.

“I was approached because I’ve done a lot of advocacy with Medicare for All, and other progressive causes,” Sriram said. “The four of us just started putting together our brainpower.”

The group received an early boost from another superhero—actor Mark Ruffalo, who plays The Hulk in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, tweeted about the new organization and drove substantial attention their way.

It turned out that acquiring the PPE to distribute was only half the challenge—giving away even critically-needed items to large health care organizations wasn’t always easy. It often meant connecting with the right individuals who could authorize acceptance of PPE, and understanding what might be going on behind the scenes.

Fortunately, Dr. Sriram says the group was well-suited to tackle both parts of their mission.

“As founders of M4A, we came from very different backgrounds, so we had different networks to tap into,” he said. “But whatever field we came from, one of the common threads between us was finding a way out of no way.”

Though the COVID-19 pandemic is not yet over, Sriram said the urgency of Masks4America’s mission has subsided somewhat from the darker early days, when national and international supplies of PPE could not meet health care providers’ needs. However, he hopes their work has a secondary effect: drawing attention to the need to keep those providers safe and well-supplied at all times, not just amid a worldwide crisis.

“I think that we do kind of see that our mission is sun-setting,” Dr. Sriram said. “By encouraging people to talk about the need for PPE, we’ve also given people forums for talking about workplace safety, and dynamics around how we value our frontline workers. I think that becomes a legacy of this project.”