More than a nurse

Kathleen Kent - Everyday Extraordinary

A team that swiftly created a plan to test our community for COVID

Flexibility is an unspoken job requirement for nurses. But when the entire San Antonio community was thrown into a pandemic, these healthcare workers’ everyday jobs required an extraordinary amount of adaptability and creativity.

Within a week of the city shutdown in March, the entire nursing staff from University Health Mobile and Community Health was pulled to the front lines to administer COVID-19 nasal swabs to both the community and to University Health employees.

They swiftly set up a testing site at the Freeman Coliseum, where car after car after car of healthcare workers and the city’s first responders drove through for a nasal swab. These tests took priority in the lab to get results sooner—after all, keeping employees healthy is the first step to keeping the community safe.

These 19 nurses rotated shifts at the Freeman Coliseum and at the Bexar County Adult Detention Center. In confined spaces like jails, even one person with COVID-19 can lead to an outbreak that quickly gets out of hand. So the nurses tested every single inmate and officer in order to isolate infected people immediately.

Later, testing was moved to the Robert B. Green campus where other employees jumped in to help administer tests to the San Antonio community. The move required some trial and error to figure out what worked, but they had refined the process by the time a surge of cases hit after Memorial Day.

So many healthcare workers were needed to keep up with testing that medical assistants and licensed practical nurses unfamiliar with swabbing stepped up to serve. Employees working in podiatry, women’s health, adult and pediatric endocrinology, and other areas volunteered to learn the procedure and help protect the community.

“These employees didn’t normally do swabs, but we provided expert training,” said Kathy Kent, nursing supervisor for Mobile and Community Health. “They would watch an experienced person do a swab, and then the new person would do a swab while the experienced person watched. We had no samples rejected because of insufficient specimen collection.”

The nurses weren’t only training University Health employees—they also extended this service far beyond the borders of San Antonio.

“We helped train medical employees in the Army National Guard on proper collection techniques for doing swabs,” Kent said. “The Army brought people to train before going out to collect specimens in rural areas. We impacted the whole state with the training.”

Between March and the end of June, University Health performed more than 6,000 swabs—and enabled countless more.

“We adapted to whatever environment we found ourselves in,” Kent said. “We were just rolling with whatever came our way that day.”

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