During COVID, A Westporter Connects

As the coronavirus swept across America, the news was filled with brutal stories. Among the worst: so many nursing home residents and hospital patients dying alone.

Deprived of personal visits, men and women — if they were lucky — drew their last breaths watching loved ones on iPads and cell phones. In the midst of so much chaos and death, doctors, nurses and support staff brought their own devices from home, so those they cared for could have slightly less lonely goodbyes.

Most of us shook our heads sorrowfully; this was one particularly awful horror, in a cascade of them.

Kara Ivy Goldberg wanted to do something about it.

Kara Ivy Goldberg

At Staples High School, the 2004 graduate had been a tennis star — and a volunteer at Norwalk Hospital. She studied economics and environmental sciences at the University of Virginia, where she spent 2 years as chapter president of Best Buddies.

After moving west for a job in tech marketing, Kara joined the board of Big Brothers, Big Sisters of the Bay Area.

Three years ago she returned to the East Coast. She continued her tech marketing career, and also worked in commercial real estate.

In mid-March, COVID crushed all of that. Kara and her fiancé had just arrived in Colorado, to see his sister’s new baby. Their planned 3-day stay turned into 6 weeks.

While there, Kara heard of a project started by a good college friend and her colleagues. COVID Tech Connect. The idea is simple: source, donate and ship devices to hospitals, senior care facilities and hospices, to facilitate video calls between pandemic patients and loved ones.

Google donated thousands of Pixel devices; Facebook contributed Portals. COVID Tech Connect ships 4 to 15 devices per facility. Funding came from Google, a GoFundMe page, and a large anonymous donor. Ellen DeGeneres gave a substantial grant too.

Kara is one of 2 full-time employees. She handles all hospital communications, and pretty much anything else that needs to be done.

There’s a lot. Hospitals need to be aware of the program; there’s shipping, security, setup and trouble-shooting too.

COVID Tech Connect has worked well. So far, 6,600 devices have been shipped, to 778 facilities. The goal is 20,000 devices.

But the videoconference platforms being used — Zoom, Google Meets, Microsoft Teams and more — were designed for consumers, not dying patients and healthcare facilities that must deal with things like HIPAA.

So Kara and her team are designing a free, universal platform to address those issues.

The focus so far has been on public and underserved hospitals. Feedback has been fantastic.

Margie Ulman — one of the first patients in Georgia to die from COVID-19 — was also the first to use a device provided by COVID Tech Connect to communicate with her family. (Photo courtesy of Dr. Joanne Kuntz)

As the coronavirus surges again, COVID Tech Connect plugs away. “As long as there’s a need, we’ll be available,” Kara says.

They continue to send devices — and to make sure that doctors, nurses, administrators and IT people know the program is available.

COVID Tech Connect provides a brilliant connection, at a time when we all need one.

Including Kara Ivy Goldberg.

One of her devices was sent to the healthcare facility where her grandmother lives.

(For more information on COVID Tech Connect, click here. If your facility would like to request devices, click here.) 

3 responses to “During COVID, A Westporter Connects

  1. Emily Mikesell

    So inspiring and concretely helpful. Thank you, Kara!

  2. Charlie Stoebe (SHS '04)

    SHS ’04 represent! Way to go Kara

  3. Jeanine A Esposito

    This is so important – and more important than we realize. My Aunt and Uncle, age 95 and together since they were 16, both got COVID early on and were sent to separate hospitals, each isolated in their rooms. My Uncle died and my aunt survived. She had an iPad and the other hospital got one for my Uncle and, most importantly, the nurses helped them use the tech to see and talk to each other and stayed by to comfort them. After my uncle died, my Aunt was still in the hospital and her only granddaughter lived in Italy. Frederic and I used Zoom to attend and stream the wake, funeral and burial of my Uncle – to my Aunt, for his granddaughter and for his other brothers and sisters. Without this, my Aunt could not have “been there” and had any closure. The tech was important, but so was the nurse who made sure it was working and, even more importantly, held my aunt’s hand and comforted her as she watched her husband of over 75 years be laid to rest.