Nantahala Health Foundation Responds to COVID-19 Crisis

As COVID-19 was migrating unseen into our rural mountain communities, Nantahala Health Foundation partnered with Dogwood Health Trust and other Mission Health System legacy foundations to support first responders and essential front-line workers whose lives depend on access to Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), including hand sanitizer, face masks, gloves, and disposable medical gowns.

Graham County Department of Social Services Director Cris Weatherford transfers donated hand sanitizer from this Cultivated Cocktails bottle into a spray bottle for his staff’s ease of use. After assessing the region’s personal protective equipment needs through a partnership with Nantahala Health Foundation, Dogwood Health Trust began sourcing PPE, even to the extent of working with local businesses to manufacture these vital resources designed to reduce the chance of COVID-19 contagion for first responders and front-line workers. – Photo courtesy Graham County Department of Social Services

As a result of this partnership to date, nearly 1,525 face shields and more than 260 gallons of hand sanitizer have been distributed to some 20 agencies throughout NHF’s six-county service area, which includes the Qualla Boundary. As additional needs are identified, the effort to bring more equipment to our region will continue, said Lori Bailey, NHF’s executive director.

“Few would dispute that Western North Carolina’s first responders are among the most vulnerable when it comes to our region’s efforts to address the COVID-19 crisis,” Bailey said. “Understanding the need to provide protection against contagion for medical providers, law enforcement officers, senior care providers, public school officials, and human service workers, we jumped at the chance to work with Dogwood Health Trust to locate and distribute these vital resources.

“We are profoundly grateful to Dogwood Health Trust for their efforts to ensure our region’s PPE needs are met,” Bailey continued. “We are also grateful for the creativity and dedication of businesses and manufacturers in our region that are stepping up to meet these needs.”

Efforts to assess the need for PPE, locate resources with available PPE, and work with regional businesses to shift their traditional manufacturing gears toward PPE production for the region got underway in late March. Diamond Brand Outdoors, Southeastern Container, and Cultivated Cocktails are just a few of the businesses partnering with DHT to manufacture PPE to address regional needs. Within the six-county and Qualla Boundary region served by Nantahala Health Foundation, Industrial Opportunities, Inc. (IOI) in Andrews has also increased production of PPE to ensure our region has the protective equipment it needs.

By April 6, a first-wave distribution plan for face shields and hand sanitizer had been developed, and equipment was making its way into the hands of first responders and essential front-line workers in the state’s far western counties.

“We want to give a big THANK YOU to Nantahala Health Foundation and Dogwood Health Trust for getting us much-needed personal protective equipment to protect our healthcare workforce during this critical time,” Casey Cooper, Cherokee Indian Hospital CEO, said. “Thanks to their collective efforts we received 100 face shields and bottles of hand sanitizer. We are grateful for their support during this challenging time.”

The work of so many to come together to source, manufacture and distribute PPE will ultimately contribute to better health outcomes for our communities as stay-at-home efforts continue to flatten the COVID-19 contagion curve, said Antony Chiang, CEO for Dogwood Health Trust.

“We are extremely grateful for the way our community pulls together to make a difference,” said Chiang. “From legacy foundations like Nantahala Health Foundation to the local companies making PPE and front-line staff working to keep people safe, these collaborative efforts work on multiple levels to save lives, support jobs, and help our communities. But to make efforts like this really work, it’s up to the rest of us to continue to stay home.”

Since moving to telework in mid-March as a result of N.C. Governor Roy Cooper’s “stay home, stay safe” initiative to flatten the COVID-19 curve, NHF’s staff members have prioritized the need to ensure Western North Carolina first responders’ needs for personal protective equipment would be met, said Jane Kimsey, NHF’s board chair.

“I am proud of our staff’s quick response to this important call to action,” Kimsey said. “The way they immediately reached out to community leaders and first responders to assess their needs for this equipment was phenomenal.”

UPDATE: April 6, 2020

Some 20 WNC organizations learned today that their requests for Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) have been met. Distribution plans for gallons of hand sanitizer and hundreds of face shields vital to protecting the lives of those on the frontline of the COVID-19 battle are being disseminated this week.

If you’ve requested PPE but have not heard back, please be aware that the Dogwood Health Trust PPE team continues to work around the clock to locate these vital resources. As additional PPE resources are located, we will be in touch.

If your organization could benefit from PPE, please complete THIS SURVEY to help us and Dogwood Health Trust, with which we will determine how best to assess, advocate for, source, and distribute resources. NOTE: Every field on the survey must contain a response, even if it’s N/A or ‘0’ before it can be submitted. Only when you see a “Thank you for taking our survey” response can you be assured it was successfully received.

UPDATE: March 30, 2020

Is your organization in need of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)? If so, we want to help. Please complete THIS SURVEY to help us and Dogwood Health Trust determine how best to assess, advocate for, source, and distribute these vital resources.

UPDATE: March 26, 2020

With each passing hour, our world landscape changes in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Once a far-off mention on the nightly news, this health threat has found its way into our mountain communities, bringing with it the fear of the unknown.  

While we cannot begin to predict what our futures hold related to this threat, we remain confident in the strength of the collective efforts of non-profits, governmental agencies, businesses, and private citizens to come together to address this challenge.

Today, Nantahala Health Foundation’s Board of Directors joined a growing list of regional agencies joining forces to build the WNC Emergency and Disaster Response Fund.  This collaborative crisis response is designed to support human service organizations addressing basic needs that have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. The intent of this fund is to respond to immediate and urgent needs not covered by other sources.

Eligible nonprofits will use a simple, expedited process to access funds with grants considered and awarded on a rolling basis throughout the outbreak and recovery phases of the pandemic. Additionally, Nantahala Health Foundation staff members are available to provide assistance during the application process as needed.*


As the eyes and ears and boots on the ground, you are ideally positioned to know what your community needs to respond to COVID-19. While we can’t make promises about what we can support, it is helpful to hear directly from you what needs you are seeing as this situation escalates. Your input on the short survey below will help us prioritize appropriate response measures, as well as inform our effort to advocate for additional resources for our region.


*Following health and safety guidance to promote social distancing, NHF staff has shifted to telework and is conducting business through virtual platforms. However, we strive to be accessible and minimize disruptions as much as possible under these circumstances.