UHS adds new equipment, upgrades facilities to help diagnose COVID patients

August 28, 2020

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — With students back on the University Park campus, University Health Services has completed upgrades and renovations that will allow Penn State to more quickly and effectively diagnose students with coronavirus symptoms. 

One major element is the Abbott testing equipment, which the University recently installed and validated, now available for use.  

“We can do the tests and have them available at a rapid basis,” said Dr. Robin Oliver-Veronesi, senior director of University Health Services (UHS). “Typically, we can have those test results to patients within a few hours.” 

Oliver-Veronesi said the new Abbott equipment allows Penn State to rapidly sample 100 symptomatic students on average per day through a nostril test. 

If the University needs to conduct more tests beyond the 100 done by the Abbott, UHS can collect an additional 320 samples from patients per day, which will be sent to Quest Diagnostics in Pittsburgh for analysis. 

Students at University Park who are feeling sick can contact UHS by scheduling online through myUHS or calling the Nurse Advice Line

“We’ll encourage that student to self-isolate for that period of time while they’re waiting for their test results,” she said. The student will then be notified by either secure message or phone call of the result. 

Oliver-Veronesi said the Abbott equipment will supplement the testing boxes currently available at Eisenhower Parking Deck which are being used to test students who are worried about exposure to the coronavirus or may be exhibiting milder symptoms, while those who may be experiencing more concerning symptoms will be tested within UHS in its newly built negative pressure suite. 

The recently completed suite adds nine more negative pressure rooms to the UHS facility to examine patients. 

“We wanted to provide a safer environment for students and providers and have the capacity to evaluate students who are more symptomatic or may have more severe symptoms in the health center,” Oliver-Veronesi said.  

She explained that negative pressure rooms are dedicated facilities that use special ductwork and exhaust equipment to keep air from recirculating to other parts of the building. 

“Previously, we had two negative pressure rooms and we’d use them to evaluate patients for measles, chicken pox or other infectious diseases,” she said. “We didn’t feel that was enough capacity.” 

Earlier this year, the University converted one of UHS’s ambulance bays to serve as an open-air unit to evaluate COVID patients. 

But starting in June, Penn State embarked on a $370,000 project to renovate and convert an existing hallway with examination rooms in UHS into a negative pressure suite. 

Normally a project of this magnitude and complexity would take approximately five to six months to complete, according to Lisa Ann Berkey, senior director of design and construction in the Office of Physical Plant (OPP), but the goal was to complete the renovation in time for the start of the fall semester. 

“It was a really great example of the internal Physical Plant team — project management, design services, renovation services, engineering services and operations — coming together along with other University partners, understanding the priority and making this happen in a time of crisis,” she said.  

Beyond the aggressive time schedule, the OPP team had to contend with the technical challenge of renovating the building’s mechanical systems — including using a crane to hoist two fans onto the UHS Building’s roof, supply chain complications due to the pandemic, physical distancing safety rules for workers on site, members of the team working remotely and the University-wide transition to SIMBA

Ultimately, Physical Plant finished the project in 10 weeks. “The amount of coordination that had to occur to complete this work in time for the fall semester was remarkable,” Berkey said. “It was incredible — it really was.  The efforts and dedication of the project team were truly outstanding.”  

In the end, the renovation increased the overall count of negative pressure rooms to 11 at University Park campus. 

Oliver-Veronesi said, “The negative pressure suite is located right next to our lab and right next to our radiology suite, and so if patients needed an x-ray or needed to have blood work done while they’re here, we can do that pretty easily because of the physical proximity of those negative pressure suites.” 

She added, “It’s rare to find an outpatient ambulatory facility with that much capacity. Even smaller hospitals don’t have that many negative pressure rooms.” 


Last Updated September 22, 2020