Novant Health Brunswick Medical Center off Highway 17 in Supply, North Carolina opened in July 2011. According to its website it employs "nearly 200 physicians and specialists, 450 employees and 150 volunteers. Photographed on March 23, 2019. [Melissa Sue Gerrits/For Carolina Public Press]

The doctors, nurses, technicians, orderlies, ambulance drivers and others who are tending to the victims of COVID-19 now have one less thing to worry about.

E4E Relief, a subsidiary of Charlotte-based Foundation for the Carolinas, announced this week that it will administer a $50 million program of grants to assist the families of health care employees and volunteers who lose their lives while caring for others.

Called the Brave of Heart Fund, the charitable grants program was established with donations of $25 million each from the philanthropic arms of New York Life Insurance Co. and Cigna and is expected to grow to more than $100 million through additional individual and corporate donations.

[The latest: North Carolina coronavirus daily updates]

New York Life will also provide up to $25 million in supplementary support in a dollar-for-dollar match of individual donations, while Cigna will provide free emotional and behavioral health services to surviving family members who need them.

The grants program will begin taking applications in May via a portal at BraveofHeartFund.com. The fund will support as many eligible families as possible until all of the fund is exhausted, said Tara Keener, a spokesperson for the Charlotte-based foundation.

E4E Relief estimates that there are 22 million health care workers and volunteers across the country.

Eligible recipients include a spouse, domestic partner, dependent child or dependent adult of any employee or volunteer who worked at a hospital, nursing home, clinic, triage center or other licensed institution and who contracted COVID-19 in the line of duty.

Grants will provide both immediate and longer-term assistance. Initial grants of $15,000 each will help family members with immediate needs like loss of income, medical bills or funeral expenses.

A second wave of grants of up to $60,000 is designed to provide assistance with housing and utilities, food, child care, transportation and other recurring needs for up to six months.

Awards will be based on an applicant’s identification of need and, especially in phase two, the applicant’s income and financial resources, Keener said.

“An online verification system will verify the employment of the health care worker, their death and their connection to the family,” she added.

Applications will be taken through May 15, 2021, unless funds are exhausted earlier.

“The fund honors the families of health care workers and volunteers who go to hospitals and medical facilities every day, knowingly putting themselves in harm’s way while working with COVID-19-positive patients,” a statement on Brave of Heart Fund’s website says.

About 9,300 cases of COVID-19 among health care personnel nationally had been reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention by April 9, a figure that the federal agency calls “likely an underestimation.”

The median age of the infected group was 42, 73% were female, and 27 of them (0.003%) were reported to have died.

The Foundation for the Carolinas began offering employee assistance programs following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center in New York.

Neil Cotiaux

Neil Cotiaux is a contributing writer for Carolina Public Press. He is based in Wilmington. Send an email to info@carolinapublicpress.org to contact him.

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