1

Montana companies tap unique resources to help during COVID pandemic

Alaska Airlines will transport the materials needed to create more than 200,000 hospital-grade masks and deliver the finished medical supplies to the 51 hospitals managed by Providence across the West, including Montana. (Photo by Ingrid Barrentine)

While the $2 trillion stimulus package trickles out of Washington, D.C., into the national economy, large regional corporations are stepping up to the battle against coronavirus.

While there’s no official count on the collective effort so far, some of the region’s largest companies have stepped in to help, including Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Montana, which is contributing $1 million to support healthcare across the state in response to the pandemic.

NorthWestern Energy also has donated $300,000 to provide relief as the crisis persists for another week.

“We activated our incident response structure in early March, and have been able to continue to provide safe, reliable service to our customers, including healthcare providers and first responders,” said Bob Rowe, president and CEO of NorthWestern Energy.

More than half the aid provided by the state’s largest utility will come as credits on the energy bills incurred by small businesses. The pandemic has taken a toll on Main Street shops, forcing some to close while others furlough workers as revenues decline.

Rowe said his company’s contribution will free up other resources for small businesses as they struggle to survive the pandemic’s financial impacts.

“This aid is available immediately,” Rowe said. “In addition, NorthWestern Energy will match the donations our employees make to organizations that provide emergency assistance for members of our communities who are experiencing difficulty paying their residential energy bill.”

Alaska Airlines also struck a partnership with Providence to transport materials needed to create more than 200,000 hospital-grade masks. The airline will deliver medical supplies to the 51 hospitals managed by Providence across the West.

“Every day, we carry essentials such as food, mail and lifesaving items, including crucial medication and medical equipment,” said Rick Bendix, a spokesman for Alaska Air Cargo. “Across our network, we’re packing our freighters and maximizing cargo in the belly of passenger aircraft to deliver essential goods to our customers throughout our network.”

A furniture manufacturer in Washington is making the masks and other supplies, including the personal protective equipment needed by area healthcare workers. Alaska Airlines will deliver the finished product to Providence hospitals in Montana, Oregon and Washington, along with other states.

“Alaska Airlines has helped us fly doctors, nurses and other medical personnel up and down the West Coast,” said Dr. Amy Compton-Phillips, the chief clinical officer for Providence. “Now more than ever, its mission is critical to get protective equipment to caregivers, who are caring for millions of people in the communities we serve.”

Blue Cross and Blue Shield established its own grant to provide access to care and food security in communities where the need is the greatest. It also has eliminated co-pays, deductibles and other provisions for those who test positive for COVID-19.

The Dennis and Phyllis Washington Foundation will also award $450,000 to more than six-dozen organizations that provide basic needs during the pandemic.

Mike Halligan, the foundation’s executive director, said the grants will be distributed to social programs across the state, including food banks and pantries, homeless shelters, rescue missions and the United Way.

“Basic needs organizations are critically important to helping Montana’s most vulnerable citizens,” Halligan said. “The foundation wants to help alleviate the strain placed on these organizations by the COVID-19 crisis by giving them a cash infusion now, while at the same time helping them generate additional resources by leveraging our donation.”