UAMS Pharmacy Alum Volunteers for COVID-19 Relief in California

By David Wise

Lee (Leland) Turner (class of 2014) traveled to Santa Clara, Calif., at the beginning of April to volunteer with an emergency relief organization called Team Rubicon that is delivering care to recovering COVID-19 patients in Silicon Valley.

A native of Northwest Arkansas who attended Elkins High School, Turner works as a pharmacist at Medical Arts Pharmacy and Medical Supply in Fayetteville and credits his employer for allowing him the opportunity to help the people of Santa Clara and surrounding areas.

“Medical Arts Pharmacy and Medical Supply has been incredibly understanding,” Turner said. “Pharmacy leadership recognizes that it is important to help high risk communities right now, and flexibility is critical in order to accomplish this. The staff at Medical Arts picked up additional shifts so that I could have the opportunity to volunteer with Team Rubicon, and I am very grateful for that.”

Team Rubicon is a nonprofit organization that leverages the skills and experiences of military veterans and first responders to rapidly deploy volunteer emergency response teams. Founded in 2010 by former Marine Jake Wood, Team Rubicon has sent teams across the United States and around the world to provide immediate relief during disasters and humanitarian crises.

Team Rubicon Social Distancing


This is the first medical operation for Team Rubicon in the continental U.S. However, the organization has provided medical care in emergency situations across the world. From battling dengue fever in the Marshall Islands, to deploying a mobile medical team to Mozambique following Cyclone Kenneth, and even providing primary medical care on the shores of Greece to refugees displaced by conflict in the Middle East.

This is not the first time Turner has volunteered with Team Rubicon. An Air Force veteran, Turner traveled to the Bahamas in October 2019 during the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian. He and his team cleared debris, tarped roofs and helped people on the island of Grand Bahama begin to rebuild their homes.

“Hurricane Dorian was absolutely devastating for some areas in the Bahamas. A 10-foot storm surge wreaked havoc on local homes, and the Bahaman people were incredibly grateful for help,” Turner said. “It was a very meaningful experience for me, so I resolved to stay involved with Team Rubicon. In the case of the COVID-19 pandemic, I am now able to use my pharmacy training to help.”

In Santa Clara, that means working in a makeshift field hospital for patients recovering from the coronavirus who no longer require intensive care, but are not yet well enough to go home. This frees up the Santa Clara health system to focus on patients who are critically ill.

After converting large supply closet into a temporary pharmacy, Turner asked to be placed wherever had the greatest need. That turned out to be the graveyard shift, so he has been covering the pharmacy from 10:00 p.m.-7:00 a.m.

Team Rubicon Beds

Located just South of San Francisco in the shadow of the 49er’s Levis Stadium, the field hospital (officially dubbed a Field Respite Center) is set up inside of the Santa Clara Convention Center. Rows of medical cots occupy floor space that is normally filled with tech conference attendees from Silicon Valley. This is where patients are located and where health care workers don full personal protection equipment (PPE) to care for them, following a “hot,” “warm” and “cold” zone protocol.

Turner works alongside about two dozen other Team Rubicon volunteers, including physicians, nurse practitioners, nurses, EMTs and logistical technicians. The volunteers come from all over the country, including Michigan, Alaska, Maryland, Texas, Virginia and, of course, Arkansas.

“A lot of the volunteers are vets who are looking for a way to give back and become involved in  a community  and help people in need,” Turner said.

While Turner is the only pharmacist with Team Rubicon, he works  alongside other pharmacists from the Department of Health and Human Services, which is collaborating with Team Rubicon for this relief program.

Fortunately, the average patient census has remained relatively low, with about 15 people being treated in the facility at any one time. However, they have the capacity to admit and care for up to 250 patients should the need arise.

The team performs basic wellness checks, takes temperatures and handles other non-COVID 19 related medical care.   The Field Respite Center supports about 10 hospitals in the area, which allows the hospitals to focus on – and free up beds for – people in need of the most critical care.

Turner completed his first two years of pharmacy school at the UAMS campus in Little Rock and finished out his third and fourth years of training at the UAMS Northwest Regional Campus in Fayetteville. He arrived in Santa Clara on April 5 and will return to Arkansas on April 26.

Leland Turner, College of Pharmacy class of 2014, leans against a wall while wearing a face mask.

Leland Turner, College of Pharmacy class of 2014