China connections key in fast delivery of protective gear to Seattle Indian Health Board | KNKX

China connections key in fast delivery of protective gear to Seattle Indian Health Board

Apr 6, 2020

After weeks of waiting for a response from the federal government, the Seattle Indian Health Board says it finally received a shipment of personal protective equipment — from a small business.

Like most companies these days, Eighth Generation has had to cut back and cancel many orders because of the coronavirus. But that didn’t stop the retail company from messaging Esther Lucero two weeks ago. The founder and CEO, Louie Gong, told her he wanted to leverage his contacts with manufacturers overseas to help get the agency critical supplies of personal protective gear. 

“I was just floored,” said Lucero, the CEO of Seattle Indian Health Board, a community health center that specializes in the care of Native people, many of whom are homeless. 

“And we were having a really hard time finding any mechanism to get us supplies from FEMA and the CDC,” she said of the federal agencies most hospitals turn to. “Even any resources in the Indian Health Board — we hadn’t seen any supplies.”

Eighth Generation sells exclusively Native-designed products, such as wool or cotton blankets. Many of those are manufactured overseas, in China. Gong, the CEO, says the company decided to help a couple of weeks ago. Then they got focused quickly, figuring out with Lucero what was needed and how to get it.

"(L)everaging our relationships with overseas suppliers to find these items, which are really hard to find right now. And then expedite shipping. And since we confirmed our order, it’s only been about seven or eight days,” Gong said.

He says many people in the U.S. forget that despite all the challenges right now, behind the headline news, international businesses and other organizations are based on relationships — in his case, strong relationships with partners in China.

“We are working with actual human beings there that care about us,” Gong said. “We’ve had to cancel many orders that were in progress. We’ve had to hold many orders as well. And they’ve been completely understanding of why we needed to do those, having been through this themselves. And they’ve also bent over backwards to support us in trying to get  us this protective equipment, as fast as possible.”

Lucero says the timing of this shipment is perfect. It includes 4,000 N95 respirator masks, 6,000 surgical masks, and 300 face shields. They will be used primarily for technicians administering tests for COVID-19 at a new, temporary site that the agency just opened Thursday.