UHS staff devoted to enhancing health on campus during coronavirus pandemic

May 05, 2020

Dr. Robin Oliver-Veronesi, senior director of UHS, knew that the novel coronavirus would pose challenges for the work she and her colleagues do to enhance and protect the health of the Penn State campus community every day – and she also knew that she had a team of dedicated, hardworking professionals ready to overcome those obstacles.

The Penn State University Health Services (UHS) staff remains dedicated to helping students who remain on campus amid the COVID-19 pandemic. UHS providers assisting patients during this outbreak volunteered their time to better health on campus. UHS staff, among other brave and dedicated healthcare workers across the nation, are being recognized by Penn State on social media through the hashtag #PennStateHeroes.

Since January, Dr. Oliver-Veronesi has held recurring meetings to inform campus partners on the threat COVID-19 posed. It wasn’t until classes were moved remotely that the staff at UHS knew their planned initiatives needed to be implemented.

As Penn State students adjust to the new reality of remote learning and limited interaction, hundreds of essential staff members are still working around the clock to support the community on campus while practicing social distancing. The University Health Services team is taking care of any undergraduate and graduate students who remain in the State College area, such as international students unable to return home due to travel restrictions, as well as any employees or retirees who utilize the UHS Pharmacy.

Since the pandemic began, UHS has committed to finding alternative ways to support students during this time of uncertainty as the novel coronavirus has steered public policy away from face-to-face interactions. Staff members are working on campus and remotely to perform essential services to students, including COVID-19 testing in the ambulance bay; providing care to those awaiting results, in quarantine or isolation through the Nurse Advice line; and following up with treatment and consultation when needed. On April 20, UHS also launched telemedicine and is moving towards full implementation over the coming weeks. The UHS Pharmacy continues to stay open for curbside prescription pickup and mail orders during the outbreak.

“The team effort involved with developing the idea — going from the idea to configuring the ambulance bay, and then the actual implementation of the process of seeing patients — for me, really underscored how united everyone was to make this happen."

--Dr. Lee Marks, UHS medical director

To reduce the potential for person-to-person contact, the pharmacy no longer allows walk-ins and instead only provides prescriptions by mail or curbside pickup, available from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, until further notice. The mail order service is only available to Pennsylvania and Florida residents with a postage charge of $3.00.

UHS facilities manager, Michele Brown, was a part of the task force to brainstorm a new plan during Spring Break to decide how to handle patients. The team came up with a pop-up clinic and ambulance bay plan.

“We decided on that Monday and by Thursday we had the clinic created. Dividers from the HUB-Robeson Center and Bryce Jordan Center were taken to set up the room. The collaborative effort took many moving parts to come together,” Brown said.

The ambulance bay is set up with a screening checkpoint at the entrance, where nurses monitor incoming patients for active COVID-19 symptoms. All testing is done there to limit the amount of people going into the building. This allows both patients and the healthcare providers to interact as safely as possible. After COVID-19 testing is completed, providers educate patients on isolating once back at home. The nursing team calls patients every day to check in and to make sure they are doing okay. Surfaces are constantly wiped down to minimize everyone’s exposure as much as possible. Dr. Lee Marks, UHS medical director, said that the ambulance bay became an option as it was the best place for UHS to “mimic the intent of a negative air pressure room.”

“With the bay doors open, the air flow allows for good circulation so that we don’t have to close down a room within UHS for cleaning and air purging between patients,” said Dr. Marks, who has helped Dr. Oliver-Veronesi oversee this process.

Dr. Marks praised everyone involved in making the ambulance bay a functional and sanitary site for treating patients.

“The team effort involved with developing the idea, going from the idea to configuring the ambulance bay, and then the actual implementation of the process of seeing patients, for me, really underscored how united everyone was to make this happen,” Dr. Marks said. “I am proud of the group effort, and proud of being associated with all of those working at University Health Services, during this stressful and worrisome time.”

Rebecca Simcik, a general medicine doctor, has been working the frontlines at the UHS ambulance bay. “We are grateful to do it for our UHS population. For a lot of our students, we are their local doctor’s office,” said Simcik. “If we can save them a trip to the emergency room, we will. We are happy to provide that value for them”

 Simcik emphasized how important it is to social distance and the importance of disinfecting surfaces and washing hands. “Healthy and young people can be a huge transmitter of the virus,” she noted. “Stay at home, this will keep the hospitals from being overwhelmed.”

Simcik hopes to move towards virtual appointments for routine health matters. “We are still here for you guys even if we are further apart,” she said.

Radiology manager, Melanie Harris and her team have been pitching in where it’s needed like running specimens from the bay to the in-house lab and assisting the pharmacy by making phone calls to doctors’ offices for refills.

“Our daily routine has changed significantly with this virus. Our administrators have been wonderful and supportive, and understanding that we want to protect ourselves and family too,” said Harris.

Students throughout Pennsylvania and in some states as determined by state licensing laws will have access to health care through telemedicine at UHS.

“When the UHS staff learned that our student patients were not returning following spring break, our providers reached out to patients through phone visits to provide ongoing care,” said Oliver-Veronesi. Since that time, and in just a few short weeks, providers and the UHS staff banded together to carve out a path for UHS to implement telemedicine so that our patients have access to our providers for their healthcare. I could not be more proud of our providers and supporting staff in making this launch into telemedicine happen for our students.”

Other units of Students Affairs such as Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) and Health Promotion and Wellness have transitioned to virtual sessions for urgent care, counseling, and case management along with an array of online outreach support, workshops, and group sessions of anxiety management and meditation to deal with the stress of the pandemic.

For more information on scheduling an appointment at University Health Services and utilizing the Pharmacy, please visit the UHS website.

"We Are" stories

The “We Are” spirit is perhaps more important than ever before, and Penn Staters everywhere are coming together in new and amazing ways. During these challenging times, our community is continuing to realize Penn State’s commitment to excellence through acts of collaboration, thoughtfulness and kindness. As President Eric Barron has written on Digging Deeper, this truly is a “We Are” moment — and we want to hear your “We Are” stories.

Visit news.psu.edu/WeAre to share how you or other Penn Staters are supporting each other to overcome the collective challenges presented by novel coronavirus. We are!

Last Updated September 22, 2020