In April, Jordan Eatough, a second-year student in RVU’s Physician Assistant Program, helped set up an alternate care facility at the Arapahoe County Fairgrounds as part of a multi-agency task force. In the first entry for the series “A Spark of Excellence” – which highlights RVU students’ incredible journeys towards becoming healthcare providers – Jordan provides a first-hand account of his experiences with this once-in-a-lifetime volunteer opportunity.
In April, I had the unique opportunity to volunteer with the Arapahoe County Sherriff’s Department, South Metro Fire Department, and the Colorado National Guard to assist in the set up of an alternate care facility for Tier 4 COVID-19 patients – patients who do not need serious medical management in an in-patient setting but who may not otherwise have adequate living arrangements to assist in their recovery. We converted the Arapahoe County Fairgrounds into a temporary 54-bed facility with individual “guest” cubicles, dining facilities, day/recreation room, restrooms, showers, and medical equipment.
Volunteering alongside me was Kiara Blough, OMS IV, and we were later joined by additional students from RVU’s COM and PA programs. One student, Eric Haskell, was a first-year in the PA program whom I had not met before; we talked and shared our different experiences in the program. Through this opportunity, I interacted with other RVU students in an informal, friendly atmosphere. I have found that service brings people together in a way not possible through other educational activities and interactions; and I’ve been fortunate to have made many lifelong friends through service projects over the years.
The members of the multi-agency task force were excited to use their personal skill sets to help establish this facility. While working in an inter-professional environment, it was apparent that every group had their personal strengths and skill sets. The Sheriff’s Department excelled at finding deputies to provide much needed manpower and obtaining additional resources and supplies. The National Guard was great with logistics and establishing an organizational system. These groups, however, did not have first-hand experience about what to do with healthcare supplies and medical resources onsite.
Due to their unfamiliarity with healthcare supplies, they had prioritized accessibility of supplies such as nebulizers and oxygen masks. While these supplies appeared medically relevant, this facility would not be seeing the higher acuity patients who would require those items. The student volunteers and I helped explained the differences between Tier 3 and Tier 4 patients and what resources would be needed for each. Available materials were practically sorted and organized to maximize efficiency, while also setting up the facility to transition up to a 150-bed Tier 3 facility, if needed.
Recognizing the student volunteers’ medical background and experience, the organizers looked to us for our help and input laying out the facility, such as how close to space tables and chairs, as well as if we knew of medical resources that could help*. We searched for reputable and established COVID-19 protocols to incorporate into proposed plans for the facility including possible patient intake questions and standard operating procedures (hand washing, personal hygiene, PPE, etc.). Being consulted on these decisions gave us an appreciation for the knowledge and information we have come to understand as healthcare students – information that as students we may take for granted, but that the general public may still be unfamiliar with.
While we searched for reputable resources for the information the task force needed, we made sure to work together as efficiently as possible and not “reinvent the wheel.” I worked with SD Blough, her colleagues, and others from her upcoming Obstetrics and Gynecology Residency at New York Presbyterian Brooklyn Methodist Hospital who are currently on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic. As we looked for reputable information, we quickly got lost in the “infodemic” of information overload. Finding previously established and easily digestible lists, protocols, and algorithms was incredible difficult for the two of us, even with medical knowledge, let alone for non-medically related persons.
With my wife being in an at risk-population and working in healthcare, as well as having many close acquaintances that may not understand the importance of precautions, I have had a very personal interest in learning about COVID-19. With additional time available to study, I strived to stay up-to-date on developing information regarding the pandemic. There is currently a wealth of information out there. Almost everything relating to COVID-19 is “novel” and constantly evolving. The truth of the matter is that there are still many unknowns and what is true today may likely be disproven tomorrow.
Even now as healthcare students, people around us naturally look to us for information, guidance, and support. This is more evident in a time full of many unknowns, confusion, and insufficient prior planning. It helps me understand the importance of being able to identify and decipher reputable sources and information to help promote peace and problem-solving instead of panic.
*Disclaimer: The information asked of the student volunteers by the task force was for preliminary planning purposes only. They assured us that all official decisions and protocols would be reviewed and approved by licensed medical professionals. Our primary service was to provide extra hands to set up resources and sort supplies.