The Student Health Center (SHC) has been the backbone of UNC Charlotte’s COVID-19 response efforts, quietly and efficiently pivoting to meet the changing needs of students throughout the global pandemic.
While maintaining normal clinic and pharmacy operations, the SHC team added services specific to the pandemic, including telehealth appointments, COVID-19 testing and daily medical support for students in quarantine and isolation. As the medical resource on campus, the SHC fielded thousands of calls from students and parents triaging symptoms, answering questions about testing and clarifying University processes.
“The systems we had in place were created to treat patients one at a time in our medical clinic,” said Emily Stewart, interim director and associate director of clinical services for the SHC. “We had to make adjustments that would allow us to provide health care in a whole new way.”
From surge to mitigation testing, to supporting entry and exiting testing and even some athletic teams’ testing, the medical team found themselves transitioning between roles throughout the day to meet the needs of students. A special testing tent was also set up outside the SHC to increase the capacity of testing.
As a result of surge testing, work teams, affectionately referred to as the “Swab Squad'' responded to positive wastewater signals in the residence halls. The squad, outfitted in full PPE, went door to door and floor to floor in the residence halls testing students and collecting samples. While the process of testing a student took a couple of minutes, the preparation for surge testing was labor intensive, taking hours of work behind the scenes. Testing orders were entered for every resident (sometimes up to 500 students) labels were printed and sorted and instruments were prepared.
“Our team went from being based primarily in the SHC to a much more expansive outreach situation where we were testing all over campus,” said Robert Jones, medical director of the SHC.
The team also conducted mitigation testing, which involved testing a random sampling of asymptomatic people from the residence halls weekly in an attempt to understand the true prevalence of COVID-19 within the campus community. The team did identify positive cases through mitigation testing.
“The staff has continued to amaze me with their dedication to service to our campus,” said Stewart. “They have been flexible not only in the hours they worked — adjusting to evening and weekend hours, even covering every day over the winter break and other holidays — but in the duties they were assigned to complete.”
Throughout the pandemic, Jones and Stewart also had to address the concerns related to working in health care during a pandemic and the increased risk associated with interacting with individuals who tested positive for COVID-19. They ensured the team had appropriate PPE and tested team members bi-weekly. It was important to them that they not only protect the team and their families, but their patients and the broader community.
“Working with this dedicated group of medical professionals was a really enriching experience,” said Jones. “They all reached down and gave more than expected over and over again. No matter how much you know or how much you do, you can always know or do more. We are doing so much more now than we thought we could a year ago.”