Dr. Gary Morsch | Founder

The COVID-19 pandemic has a devastating impact on healthcare staffing. Hospitals are closing, and some communities have no access to medical care at all. To meet this need for volunteer doctors and nurses in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, KC Cares is interviewing Gary Morsch, founder of Covid Care Force – a nonprofit that quickly mobilizes groups of healthcare professionals to deploy to hotspots and areas of critical healthcare staffing shortages due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Watch now as he discusses what Covid Care Force does and how you can get involved with this vital effort.



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Ruth: [00:00:00] Welcome to KC cares, Kansas city’s non-profit voice. We’re telling the stories of Kansas city and nonprofits and the people behind them. KC cares is the intersection of nonprofits and the profit community. Making Kansas city a great place to live, work and play I’m Ruth Baum. Biggest KC cares is proudly sponsored by the Ewing Marion Kauffman foundation.

First responders have had a heck of, of a year battling the COVID-19 pandemic while things may have slowed in some parts of the country, others areas are still at battle. In those early days. Things were very tough as medical personnel, literally waged war against this infectious virus. Those heroes needed backup.

And it was a Kansas city doctor who stood up and created a solution. Dr. Gary Morsch who created the non-profit COVID care force, jumped into the fight and battled and supported his colleagues. We last spoke with Dr. Morrish weeks after lockdown, in case he cares is pleased to welcome him back, to share the story, which continues his efforts and where things are headed now.

Dr. Morris, thanks for carving out some time for us. Well, 

Dr. Gary Morsch: [00:01:15] thank you, Ruth. And your, you do a great job with with your program and show. And so I want to support it and, and, and Kansas city is a great community. And you said, well, it’s a great, a great place and good, generous people. So, that’s why I love being at Kansas city for sure.

Ruth: [00:01:36] Well, we’re lucky to have you. I do want to go back a little bit in case there are people who are not aware of what the COVID care forces and the background of how this all came to be. You maneuvered very quickly. 

Dr. Gary Morsch: [00:01:51] Fried. One of my sayings is, you know, it’s better to do things right than fast, but sometimes you have to do things just fast and hope, hope your ride and COVID care for us was one of those things.

And so you’re right. It was a year ago, actually a little, maybe 13 months ago in February, then March that we saw COVID starting to rear its ugly head in the United States. And then, then. You know, towards the end of March and into early April, we, we watched what was happening in New York city. The, the, the hospitals were just being overwhelmed with patients.

People were dying you know, the New York city was in lockdown and I decided along with many others that. You know, I I’m a doctor, I’m a family doctor. And then I went into emergency medicine, ER, doc military. I was, I retired from the army reserves. I was an ER, doc of military or served in combat zones.

I thought if there’s anybody that should go I mean, I should be, I should go. My kids are raised. You know, you know, I I’ve lived a great life and if anybody should be taking risks, it ought to be people like me. So I decided to join with several friends and it was a joint project, the first team through heart-to-heart international and the international medical Corps.

And but while I was in New York city, it’s when I got the call from a member of the one of the tribal leaders in the Navajo nation. Who I, I had known of this person, but I had never met him. And he called and said, is there any way that heart-to-heart could help get PPE and medicines and supplies?

And then I said, well, what about doctors and nurses? He said, Oh yes, we, we need all the help we can get. So I decided right then, you know, I just need to spend my whole full time. Organizing volunteers, doctors, nurses, CNAs, LPN, EMT, paramedics, respiratory therapists, whoever, and get them, you know, plug them in their COVID hot-spots wherever they are.

And so we went from New York city and sent a team immediately to Gallup New Mexico and a window rock. And to Winslow to the Navajo nation and assessed it and realize this is something. I can do, I can help organize volunteers. And so we started we decided to start a new organization. I talked with heart to heart.

I talked with some of my other groups that I worked with and everyone felt like, you know what, we’re all going to be busy. And we know you, Gary, the way you run a hundred miles an hour we think you ought to just go for it. So I started COVID care for us incorporated. It is a not-for-profit. And since that last April, we have been sending medical teams all over the country and all over Mexico.

And we’re still doing it today. 

Ruth: [00:05:06] That’s amazing, but I think you downplay how hard it is to pull people together and then make an organization who are your helpers along the way? How did you make that happen so quickly? 

Dr. Gary Morsch: [00:05:21] Well, of course I’ve been, you know, being one of the, the. Founders of heart to heart.

I’ve learned a lot and heart to heart is still is a great partner. And they’re shipping. In fact, just this week, I, our volunteers in Tiawana working in a hospice there with COVID patients and, and, and poor homeless people there. And she wanted that, that don’t have a place to go. They ran out of gloves.

You know, the, the, the doctors and nurses and the workers. And so, you know, I was, I got on the phone and heart to hearts already shipped. Cases and cases and cases of gloves. So we, we have a great partnership, but I’ve learned, you know, get the word out. And and, and I have been working with hundreds and hundreds of doctors and nurses over the years.

So I, I. Just reached out to them, heart to heart, put out the word docs, who care, put out the word, different different organizations. And we were able to quickly build an organization, rented space, brought on staff. Initially it was all volunteers. And then we started raising money because to, to support.

An organization is, you know, all the people that you interview, all the not-for-profits that you work with. There, there is a time when you can do things almost pure volunteer and no overhead, but as, as you get more to get more organized and to be more, to do a better job at getting the word out and recruiting volunteers and planning their logistics we needed to hire.

People. And I have a great staff of about four or five people. We have a little, little office area in Olathe, Kansas, and that’s where all this happens. But again, it’s, it’s, it takes a small core of people, you know, behind the scenes, but it takes the generosity of many organizations, corporations. One of them just yesterday, we, we were talking to angel flight.

Angel flight is a great partner of COVID care for us. Every week, our volunteers are flying into areas, whether it’s Indian reservations or it’s to Mexico and angel flight helps us, gives us those flights. So, you know, it takes, it takes a village, I guess you might say to, to, to create a not-for-profit and then to grow it and make it sustainable.

And that’s that’s the key word is can you make it sustainable? 

Ruth: [00:07:52] Well, I love the collaborative. We’ve been lucky to have on angel flight before, and it’s, it’s really cool how they get volunteer pilots to take people who are facing some kind of a health issue and very, very cool synergy that they have come in with you to to make this fly.

Excuse the pun, not intended. Can you talk a little bit about the importance of making those collaborative connections? And if you have any suggestions or tips, I think sometimes nonprofits kind of struggle. They don’t want to get lost, but it sounds like you’re pretty important. 

Dr. Gary Morsch: [00:08:34] Right. So, you know, not for profits all share some common needs.

You, you need, you need financing. Of course he, well, he failed. First of all, you got to have a clear mission. You gotta have a, you gotta know, this is what, this is what God has put us on this earth to do. Or this is, this is our calling Catholics. Call it vocation. I think in different people call it, but it’s a passion.

It’s something that you just feel. Like, I need to, I need to be involved in this, whether it’s feeding, hungry people or helping with addiction, people with addictions or sex trafficking or whatever it is. So you gotta have a, a mission and be clear about it. This is what I’m, we’re going to try to do. So, so it starts with that having the right motivation, the right mission the, the another thing, and I.

I don’t have this prepared. You just caught me off guard here, Ruth. So I’m going to think through this as I go think on the fly, which is how I actually live my life pretty much, but you gotta be committed to doing things right in, well, you know, too many times, sometimes people cut corners or they do the expedient thing, the easy thing, and it’s really important to do things, whatever you do.

It’s it’s more, it’s important to do it right. And be committed to quality and, and, and, and equality and justice and fairness and respect of people volunteers of donors, then you need, you know, you’ve got your mission, you’re you you’re committed to doing things. Well, it takes, it takes funding, you know, and Florida’s funding come from.

Well, it doesn’t fall out of the sky. I wish it did. You know, I have a farm. I live on a farm. I wish it was. I could just plant like yesterday, we planted soybeans. I wish I could plant money and money trees would grow and I could harvest it, but it doesn’t happen that easily. But, but to, to get funding, you have to share.

Your message and your mission, and you have to ask and you have to knock on doors and it’s hard, hard work. But if we believe that people are generous and people want to do the right things with the money they have, whether it’s a foundation or a corporation or a church or a parish or a synagogue or whatever, an individual, it, you know, people will, will w they want to support good causes.

But you have to get your message out. So these are just some of the things that it takes, I think, to start a not-for-profit and then to get it, to, to grow to a level where it’s sustainable and it’s, it’s not easy, you know, more it’s like in the business world, what do they say? Nine out of 10 startup businesses fail.

I think that’s what I I’ve heard over the years. Well, it’s true in the not-for-profit world, too, you know, the majority of not-for-profits to start don’t end up making it term. And, and maybe it’s because they miss some of these fundamental things that you need to do. One of the one thing, and I know I’ve talked too long, but one thing that’s, I think is really, really important to any not-for-profit is.

For those who volunteer for those who donate their money. If some people can give their time, some people don’t have time, but they can give their talents. Some people don’t have time to give their talents. All they have is their treasure. They can write a check or they can make an online donation. People have different ways of giving and supporting, but whatever it is that people share with a not-for-profit is so important to thank them.

To appreciate them to value them and not to forget about them. So, so that’s, that’s a very important thing I would say to any not-for-profit director do not take people for granted. Thank them. Thank them appropriately timely. And thank them again and again, and then you’ll have the resources you need.

Ruth: [00:12:35] Well, for somebody talking on the fly, I’d say that was darn good. But I know you’re, you’re very good that, and I think it’s interesting too. You’ve had a lot of people working with you together, hand in hand behind you out in front of you spreading the message. And I think those are some really valuable tips from somebody who’s walked through.

This process a few times, we’re going to take a quick, quick break, but I want to come back afterwards and talk specifically about the impact that the COVID care force has had. We’ll be back after this, we’re back talking to Dr. Gary Morsch founder of heart to heart. And we’re talking today about the COVID care force that just a year ago was born out of a need to help.

With this horrible, horrible pandemic that, that has rocked the world. But focusing here, can you share with us a little bit, what were those early days like in New York? I mean, we were all hunkered down here in the Midwest, so we were just hearing through news media. You were boots on the ground. What was it like and, and how were you able to really get in there and help.

Dr. Gary Morsch: [00:13:49] Well, again, it was a collaborative thing through to a heart, to heart through international medical Corps, through the the state, the governments, state government in, in New York city. So it was all of us working to get. And because I’m, I’ve been in the military spent 21 years as a army reservist as a doctor I’ve been in.

Numerous combat zones, taking care of injured soldiers, wounded soldiers, and in the military. And the more you have a concept or a term called mass casualty. Mass cow. And that we don’t use it very often in the civilian world, because it’s pretty rare, but it does happen. And that, that is by definition when the needs of your patients or soldiers, or whether it’s injured or sick in a pandemic when the needs.

Are are greater than your ability to respond to them in the normal way with doctors and nurses and oxygen tanks and medicines. So in war, when there’s a battle often. We were the doctors and the healthcare workers are overwhelmed because there’s too many injured people at once and they call that a mass casualty mass cow.

Well, that’s what it was in New York city. And literally every hospital, it was a mass cow. It was a mass casualty. There were too many sick and dying patients and not enough beds and not enough oxygen and not enough doctors and not enough nurses. So for many of the doctors and nurses. They came in from around the country to volunteer.

Many of them had never been in a situation like this, so it’s. It’s really important to provide support for them, mental health support. And, and, and, and, and so that’s one of the things we did. That’s one of the things I did every night after shifts or in the morning, if they worked the night shift, we would, we would get together, we’d have a we’d meet in someone’s room and or in the lobby of the hotel, wherever.

And we would talk about it, you know, tell me, how did your, how did it go and what did you see today and how do you feel, and just try to support each other and encourage each other. So, that’s just one of the important one of the many little things, some people didn’t make it. You just have to understand that not everyone, even with a good heart and the best intentions really have the mental health or capacity or whatever to You know, the stamina or whatever, to, to keep on going in the face of something so terrible like this.

So some people just said, you know, I can’t keep up. I can’t, I, I can’t do this. And it was okay. That’s not a failure. A failure to me is not being willing to try. You know, if you feel like this is something I want to be a part of. You know, you, you, by all means jump in and work with that organization, volunteer with that organization.

Yes. None of us have all the answers. None of us can fix everything, but when you find out, you know, this isn’t for me, this isn’t a match or there’s something else I need to do, but this is too much. It’s okay. You know, that’s not failure. A failure is saying. Being being not having the courage to try to me.

That’s, that’s the failure part, not trying and failing. So I’d rather shoot for the stars and miss and hit the moon than never to have shot in the first place. You know, because I think, well, I’ll never, I’ll never hit the moon. So I even dry well shoot for the stars 

Ruth: [00:17:27] where you actually hands-on at one point in time giving these docs and these nurses, et cetera, break.

Dr. Gary Morsch: [00:17:35] Yes. It was also important to give people not to work people to deaths. People would feel like, well, I just need to work day at seven days straight or 10 days of no people needed the break. The other thing is we would do is we would organize get food because a lot of people were so busy and they’d come back to their hotel room and be exhausted and, you know, restaurants were closed and you know, it’s like, how do you get food?

So we worked hard to make sure people. We’re fed and taken care of. So again, these are what, you know, again, it’s a fundamental of a not-for-profit. If you have volunteers take care of him. You know, support him, respect him be there at our Indian reservation, that Navajos, because we had some, so many volunteers there.

And even in, in Pueblo, Colorado where we had at one time at maybe 10 or 12 volunteers there at a time, we would actually have a support person identify someone. Actually, sometimes it was one of our staff that we would. Hang on and actually have them live in with the team and be there full time to just support them and help them, help them, make sure they were getting fed.

We had volunteers get COVID and get sick. And when you’re in, out on the Navajo nation or in New York city and you get sick, you can’t get on a plane to come home. They’re not that’s that’s the wrong time to be getting on a plane. And so we wouldn’t, we would take care of our volunteers. We’d we’d want we’d check on them.

And sometimes it would be me making house calls to the hotel. Checking on our volunteers, deciding are you, are you at the point where we need to go to the hospital, we need to have some more tests done. So, so there was a lot of work that went into it, but again, it’s back to the fundamentals of people want to give of themselves.

Especially healthcare professionals. That’s why people become nurses and doctors sometimes it’s because for doctors, maybe they want to make a lot of money. I understand that. But most people, they go into healthcare for the right reasons. And. When it comes to a crisis, they’re the very people that want to help, they want to volunteer.

So what COVID care force does is say, how can we take that passion, that interest in, in helping move the dial, being a part of the solution to COVID supplying volunteers. Doctors and nurses to COVID hotspots around the country now around the world. How can we do that? And then asking for people to support us financially so that we can hire the logistics people and the, get the computers and keep track of all of the volunteers and then make sure they’re supported wherever they are.

Are serving. So it takes a lot of different pieces, but it’s when it happens, when it works, it’s a wonderful, beautiful thing. And it has happened for COVID care for us. And for that, you know, I’m very thankful to God. 

Ruth: [00:20:47] Well, let’s share with our audience, you know, who, who loved numbers. So by March of this year, COVID care force had registered their 1300th volunteer and you’ve logged, I think more than 15,000 service hours.

You’re in 30 sites in the United States and Mexico, 75 teams, 250,000 patients served. Wow. That’s pretty incredible, pretty amazing statistics. What were, what were the tough times? What was the toughest thing that you faced? I mean, this is a nasty disease. I, I know from having had it, my husband was very sick with it.

So what were the toughest times and how did you get through it? 

Dr. Gary Morsch: [00:21:38] The toughest times were the earliest weeks when it was all hands on deck. And I was working probably 18 hour days and maybe getting three and four hours of sleep a night and seven days a week, just trying to you know, the, the, it started in New York city.

And and, and so it was just hard and, and, you know, the volunteers, the people that ran that joined me and we, we borrowed office space. From one of one of the company in LA that, and they were generous to give us, you know, the use of their computers and printers. And then everybody was working from home.

This is a, this is a, actually a company that I own docs who care that does. Runs emergency rooms across the Midwest. We staff emergency rooms with doctors. And so, so everybody was working from home. So we, we use their offices and got started. And it was, it was just hard because we were all just, you know, we had never done this.

No one’s ever in my lifetime. I think since the 1918 Spanish flu. America has never had a pandemic like this. So really there was, there was no one alive. That’s done this before. So it was all new to us and trying to figure out what’s the, how do you do this? And how do you protect your volunteers? And, you know, even even to say the volunteers before they went, you may get COVID.

And you may die. I mean, let’s, let’s be honest. I mean, that’s pretty, pretty red, a soul wrenching, you know, and, and for me in my responsibility, With volunteers, by the way, we don’t have insurance for you. You know, you’re a volunteer, we’re all doing this ourselves. And so we’ll do our best to support you. But, but, you know, remember you’re, you’re putting yourself at risk to do this, but anyway, those were hard days, but then as we.

I figured out what worked and how built partnerships like with angel flight, then it got easier because now we have such a good relationship with them. The staff can call them up and say, we need, we have four people we need to get to such and such. And boy, they’re just. They’re just so helpful and generous.

And that’s happened with many, many organizations like that. We just have a lot of it’s, you know, starting a not-for-profit, some people see it as competition. Well, why did we need another group doing this? Don’t we have enough people trying to feed hungry people. So some people see another not-for-profit as diminishing the pie.

There’s fewer resources to go around. So there’s this idea of competition. No, I don’t believe in competition. I believe in collaboration because there is enough to go around the world. Has the resources. America is particularly is such a wealthy, wealthy, talented nation. We, we can solve a lot of really difficult problems.

We have the means and so it’s just coming up with a plan that works. So, so the early days was figuring out that plan and figuring out our partners, how we’re going to do it. And one of the statistics you didn’t mention is we’ve had 600 donors. 600 individuals have donated. Yeah, thank the Lord. And we’ve had, you know, many of them give again and again, and, and, and we’re so grateful that we, we raised $600,000 in our first year, and that’s what it took to cover the expenses of our volunteers to, to get the cars ranted, to get the pay, the hotel bills, but it worked.

And and again, it worked because. People are generous. People are generous with their time, talent and treasure. 

Ruth: [00:25:38] We just have like a minute left. Where does COVID care force go from 

Dr. Gary Morsch: [00:25:41] here? Well, I’m glad you asked because when it started, I thought first, even the Indian reservation, some of the chiefs, some of the presidents and chairmans and said, Gary, we needed help before COVID hit.

Don’t leave us after COVID is finished. And I said, you know, I never paid attention much to the native American issues, but you can be having my word. I’m going to help you for the rest of my life. I’m going to do what I can to get you, the doctors and nurses you needed even before COVID hit. So we’re transitioning to global care for us.

We’ve already incorporated. We’ve got our five Oh one C3. COVID care for us is COVID goes away. We will be the global care force. And our first team we’re working on right now is to send to India, actually the Calcutta India. So, 

Ruth: [00:26:31] wow. Well, you heard it here first, everyone I’m so I’m so pleased. And so touched by what you’ve done.

Kansas city is so lucky to have you as part of our community and making a difference in the world. Dr. Morris, thank you for spending time with us. I do appreciate it. And we want to thank you. We want to thank you for listening to KC cares, Kansas city’s non-profit voice. We’re produced by charitable communications, also a nonprofit, and we’re proudly sponsored by the Ewing Marion Kauffman foundation.

If you’d like to be a guest on KC cares or underline opportunities, you can visit our website. KC cares online.org and spread the love. You can find us on Facebook and Twitter at KC cares radio and Instagram at KC cares online.


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