The human spirit tends to shine brightest during trying times.
That’s certainly been the case as the St. Luke’s Health System tries to stay out in front of its needs as it battles the coronavirus.
One organization that has had a major presence in helping St. Luke’s is the United Way. For those in the know, that really shouldn’t be that surprising.
“St. Luke’s has taught us, and we’ve taught St. Luke’s over the course of many, many years,” said Nora Carpenter, the president and CEO of United Way of Treasure Valley. “Now, we stand shoulder to shoulder and more strongly than we ever have before.”
United Way of Treasure Valley has taken over a key role in gathering needed medical and hygiene items.
“Our efforts are intended to relieve some of the pressure on the St. Luke’s hospitals and clinics by creating a community front door for these sorts of items,” Carpenter said.
This door isn’t a physical one, however, but rather a virtual one. Donors are asked to go to unitedwaytv.org and fill out a form detailing what items they have available for donation.
United Way will then work with its partners to determine where those donated items will be best utilized – and how they should be collected.
“We’re not collecting these items at a centralized location, unless we have to,” Carpenter said.
Donations to United Way will be distributed locally throughout the state. Donations made in the Magic Valley, for example, will likely stay in the Magic Valley.
Carpenter admits the system isn’t perfect, but she and her staff have been trying to be resourceful in addressing needs during the coronavirus crisis.
“We don’t have volunteers right now, which is completely foreign to us,” she said. “We don’t have that added element because of a government mandate and from a health perspective.”
Still, supplies are coming in and St. Luke’s and United Way are working together daily to address the health system’s needs.
“We are particularly well-positioned to be partners during this crisis,” Carpenter said. “But we’re actually partners year-round on things that aren’t necessarily flashy and don’t get a lot of attention.”
As she continues to deal with this crisis, Carpenter said she’s been especially impressed with other partnerships that are coming together out of necessity.
“If there is an early win it is how creative and nimble some of Idaho’s companies have been as they try to retool and shift in medical support of some variety,” Carpenter said.
Scott Milner, senior director of pharmacy at St. Luke’s, has witnessed that firsthand – in a big way.
“We knew that there was going to be a shortage of hand sanitizer,” Milner said.
So, he and his team brainstormed ideas to address that shortage.
“At first, we were thinking maybe we could make five or 10 gallons,” Milner said. “But then we connected with our supply chain, and they use (hundreds) of gallons a month. That’s when I was like, ‘OK, we’re not going to be mixing this in the pharmacy.’
“So, this got serious, and by the end of the day it became clear that this was going to need to be a grander-scale operation.”
Then, a light bulb went off.
“We were like, ‘Wait, distilleries mix alcoholic content on a large volume all the time,’” Milner said.
That led to a phone call to Andy Koenig, the president of Koenig Distillery, which is located in Caldwell.
“It really was the weirdest phone call I’ve ever made,” Milner said. “I just said, ‘Hey, we’re with St. Luke’s, and we have a really weird question for you.’ And he said, ‘You know what? Let’s give it a try.’”
A unique partnership was formed.
“I never thought I’d be making hand sanitizer at my distillery,” Koenig said. “But, luckily most of the equipment that we use to make spirits was pretty turn-key for making the sanitizer. It was a matter of getting the formula and then getting through the red tape.”
Koenig said that process would likely have taken years under normal circumstances. But through the efforts of the governor’s office, the State Liquor Division, the pharmacy board, St. Luke’s and others it took about four days.
“I had an attorney who is a friend of ours, Joe Mallet, and he offered to do all the legal work for nothing,” Koenig said. “He put together a nice contract, and the St. Luke’s attorneys worked with him.”
The end result? Milner and other St. Luke’s staff members just picked up their third batch of hundreds of gallons of sanitizer last week.
For the time being, Koenig will continue to make hand sanitizer rather than bourbon and vodka. Koenig said he had enough stock already produced that he’ll also continue to supply liquor stores with his normal product.
Milner, for one, has been impressed by the way that Koenig has stepped up for St. Luke’s.
“To be honest, meeting with him is quite inspiring,” Milner said. “He’s never hesitated to make sure we have this production … and it’s not like he’s paying his mortgage by doing this.”
Across the board, Milner has been impressed by the way Idahoans have come together.
“It’s been super cool,” he said. “There are a lot of people trying to find an outlet in a way that they can help. … So, here we have business owners and community members that are just rocking it. They are just stepping up to the plate and delivering.”
Chris Langrill is a writer and copy editor for the St. Luke’s Communications and Marketing department.