RI project connecting COVID-19 patients with loved ones expands to other states

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PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — A Providence teenager’s effort to connect hospitalized COVID-19 patients with their loved ones has taken off.

COVID Connectors is collecting donations of gently used mobile devices and distributing to them to patients who don’t have their own and are isolated due to the no-visitor policy at hospitals.

How to donate a device »

It originally started as a way for 19-year-old Kaya Suner to keep busy during quarantine, but in just a few weeks time, it’s turned into a multi-state project to give back.

Last Thursday, Suner tweeted through the organization’s account that it had already reached its goal of delivering 650 devices to hospitals in Rhode Island.

“Once we met our need for Rhode Island, we were kind of faced with the question of, ‘do we want to stop here, or do we want to keep this going?'” Suner said over FaceTime on Tuesday.

Suner said while he can’t say for sure how many devices are in use right now, his parents — both emergency room doctors — have seen the results firsthand.

“Whether it’s a birthday party or someone saying their last goodbyes, as long as we can help connect people to their family, I’m happy,” Suner added.

There was a steady flow of donations shortly after the website was launched, according to Suner, but when someone with a connection to Amazon got in touch, the company donated 540 Amazon Fire tablets.

“That really fulfilled our need for Rhode Island and pushed us to move on to now Massachusetts and New Hampshire,” Suner said.

With help from his mom, Suner then got in touch with Catholic Medical Center in Manchester, New Hampshire, which is now accepting donations.

According to the website, donations will soon start being collected at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.

Suner said he’s looking into expanding to include nursing homes and is also in talks with hospitals in New York, Connecticut and Texas — some of the states hit hardest by the virus.

In an ideal situation, he said COVID Connectors would no longer be needed, but for now, the need is there and he plans to keep on going.

“As many people as we can reach with this project, we want to,” Suner said.

Visit COVIDConnectors.org to learn more.

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