COVID-19 Staff Heroes – Support Services

In mid-March, Yale closed the campus sending nonessential staff and faculty to work from home. In living rooms, basements, on couches and kitchen chairs, everyone is working to keep the university moving, and some are performing small miracles. Two teams helped bring in much needed Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to New Haven—Relocation and Logistics Management (RLM) and Transportation, Receiving and Storage (TR&S). These very dedicated teams are led by Donald Relihan, Director of Support Services, and they are amazing.

In late March, Diane Brown, RLM Manager, received a call from the School of Medicine asking for help. Several shipments of PPEs were coming in from overseas and needed customs clearance. These parcels were the result of doctors, faculty, and staff from the School of Medicine, Yale China Association, and some alumni personally calling non-profit organizations soliciting PPE donations. During the past several weeks, RLM and TR&S worked frantically to coordinate dozens of shipments. Michael Madera, TR&S Manager, worked with a reduced staff dispatching drivers all over New Haven to pick up boxes of masks, surgical gowns, and more. These PPEs are now housed at West Campus where they are inspected by Yale Environmental Health and Safety before distribution to Yale New Haven Hospital and Yale Health.

Don Relihan recently shared how these two teams made this happen almost effortlessly.

How is this different from what your teams normally do?

My teams handle large and small imports and exports on a regular basis. So, while this was somewhat standard procedure, it was more critical and urgent than normal. Everyone working on this project realizes how important PPEs are and worked tirelessly to get everything here. One big difference is normally shipments come straight to our loading docks and not people’s homes, so dispatching drivers outside of our campus was a little unusual.

What were some considerations, given the pandemic?

The biggest issue was clearing items through customs. Diane didn’t always have the appropriate paperwork available to clear shipments. She would field enormous amounts of email and phone calls to get exactly what she needed while keeping up on U.S. Customs regulations that were changing daily. Clearing customs is a complex business during normal times, but she was able to work with our brokers to get 100% of all the shipments cleared.

What past experiences or skills helped your team deal with such a fast-moving and enormous task?

Honestly, dealing with importing shipments from all over the world on a weekly basis is nothing new for us. The biggest challenge is that we have a reduced number of staff right now. While some coordination can be done remotely, a lot requires hands-on. I commend my staff for coming in and getting this done. I’m lucky to have a great team and proud of all of them.

What was your biggest challenge?

Because of the urgent need, many times we only heard about shipments when they were in the air or already at the airport. Normally, you know in advance and can secure the proper paperwork and get clearances. We would get calls and emails throughout the day and night about something coming in. It took a little more time and effort than normal. Also, many packages were shipped to someone’s house, so we needed to send a driver to pick it up. Right now, we have a much smaller staff on campus and Mike Madera worked miracles to keep the process moving.

What’s your best pandemic advice for all of us?

I would say constant and clear communication between all stakeholders is so critical. We worked closely for weeks with the Yale School of Medicine, Yale China Association, Environmental Health and Safety, and Procurement. There are many people to thank for making this happen, my team is just one part of that effort. It was important that nothing slipped through the cracks that might have caused a delay because, in this case, lives are at stake.

What are you doing to stay positive and to keep your staff positive?

I try to stay in touch daily and let my managers know how much I appreciate the work they do. They, in turn, thank their staff. Everyone worked to get this done. Normally, I would stop by my areas in person — I miss that.

What positive changes do you see coming out of all of this?

I don’t know the exact count of PPE’s we have received so far. But those masks, gowns, and other materials are here and will keep healthcare workers safe and ultimately save lives. As the father of a nurse, I see that as an immediate positive. The overall positive may be that people working on the front lines driving trucks, making deliveries of food and other items will get the respect they deserve. At the end of the day, we all contributed together for the greater good.

Any special thanks?

  • Josh Armstrong, EH&S
  • Frederick Borrelli, Yale Medical Group
  • Kevin Charbonneau, EH&S
  • Dashone Hughey, Yale Medical Group
  • Professor Lisa Lattanza, Department of Orthopedics
  • David Youtz, President Yale-China Association

Special thanks to your team:

  • Diane Brown, Relocation and Logistics Management
  • Joseph Carlino, TR&S West Campus
  • Leshuwn Crenshaw, TR&S and Yale Mail Service
  • Michael Madera, TR&S and Yale Mail Service
  • Sean McKelvey, TR&S
  • Tom Schmidt, Relocation and Logistics Management