Early in the struggle, Mount Sinai didn’t have enough of the N95 protective masks and other personal protective equipment (PPE) so vital to healthcare workers in their fight against the virus. Friedman, using his NetJets relationships and his network in China, sourced PPE and was able to fly masks, face shields, and goggles from China to New York. Friedman made donations of his time and money to Mount Sinai, including a $2.5 million contribution to the hospital’s COVID Relief Fund. But he wanted to do more for hospital employees.
“Since the beginning of the pandemic, my North Star has been the health and wellbeing of our frontliners,” Friedman said. “I feel that I may be more passionate about this than others, since my son, Josh, was a fourth-year resident in neurology at Mount Sinai. But when he told me how many patients he has seen die, in 10 weeks it’s been more than 2,100 deaths across the eight hospitals, that really hit me hard. The extreme trauma has taken its toll on the team.”
To help frontline workers with mental health services, child care, and other living expenses, Friedman launched a national event, #FitForTheFrontLine. While originally conceived as an event for the Mount Sinai Health System, it quickly expanded to include a lead group of 26 academic medical centers throughout the country—with Friedman making one of his first calls to President Robert Zimmer to solicit the participation of the University of Chicago School of Medicine.
#FitForTheFrontLine was a national fitness challenge that was held May 26—June 14. Participants chose any athletic activity, (walking, running, swimming, bicycling, or lifting weights) and solicited pledges from friends, colleagues, and family to donate to a hospital of their choice. Friedman, a former college basketball player at Brown University, shot 1,000 free throws in the two weeks with his donation based on the number of shots he made. His goal was to raise $500,000 by making at least 80 percent of his attempts.
Given the uniqueness of the campaign, Friedman couldn’t predict how much would be raised overall, but believes the campaign served as a well-deserved tribute, with the funds making a difference to frontline healthcare workers across the country.
Friedman has also been generous to the University of Chicago since graduating in 1981. Throughout the years, his gifts have supported Booth students with scholarships and key priorities such as Chicago Booth’s London campus and the Rubenstein Forum in Hyde Park.
“There’s no doubt that graduating from Chicago Booth and going on to Goldman Sachs ignited my career,” Friedman said. “So my education and continuing relationships at Booth have been important to what I’m doing at Sinai. I’ve talked to dean Madhav Rajan at Booth and president Zimmer, and it’s been interesting to share ideas about planning for the fall.”
While the number of patients treated at the hospital system has declined dramatically, Friedman knows the battle with COVID is far from over.
“In business and life, you run into situations that are hard to predict,” he said. “I would have never imagined, in my wildest scenario, that I would be doing something like this. It’s been inspiring to watch the leadership at the hospital system, hospital employees, and the response from the community, come together to manage through this traumatic experience. I am fortunate to be in a position to be able to make a contribution that makes a difference.”
Merlin Lu, ’16, Supports his Hometown of Wuhan
For entrepreneur Merlin Lu, ’16 (AXP-15), the site of the coronavirus outbreak had a special significance. Born, raised, and educated in Wuhan, China, Lu still has relatives in the city and deep feelings about his hometown.