In the face of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), students, faculty and alumni at Sullivan Foundation partner school Brenau University are working hard to provide education and support for those in quarantine or who are transitioning from hospital to home.
That includes Brenau alumna Brittany White, a medical social worker at Emory University, who educates and assists patients and their families with care coordination, care progression and discharge planning.
White, who earned her B.S. in health science in 2012 and M.S. in applied gerontology in 2013 from Brenau, said COVID-19 has pushed healthcare workers to be more creative and innovative in their daily practices. “We think critically,” she said. “We look at not just one aspect but the entire picture. We will not always be able to create a solution for everything, but we do everything we can to help facilitate the safest and most effective discharge for our patients.”
White credits her Brenau education with preparing her for the complex challenges brought on by COVID-19. “I work with a hospital system and team that are taking extraordinary measures that are innovative and [who] are all-around pioneers and world-leading experts,” she said. “I get to be a part of that. But if I know anything, as a Brenau graduate, I am like ‘gold refined by fire.’ Each day, I am working through this crisis, sifting, sorting and continuously refining. I love being a social worker, and I love that Brenau molded and refined me into the strong, resilient and leading woman that I am today.”
While White does not provide hands-on medical care, she is still affecting the lives of each person she encounters by offering as much support as possible. Sometimes, that means a different approach to a new problem.
“COVID-19 has shown how resilient we social workers can be,” she said. “You get creative, you get smarter, and you work harder to find and facilitate solutions. Social workers are supposed to help patients and communities to cope and thrive in times of crisis and transition.”
An important part of that transition is quarantine care, and a new partnership at Brenau’s Ivester College of Health Sciences will ensure that quarantined individuals get the care and attention they need while also providing a vital learning opportunity for students.
Through the nonprofit Hope Ripples, students in the Mary Inez Grindle School of Nursing will be providing help to those affected by COVID-19—particularly patients who have been sent home and are quarantined. In doing so, they will also be able to earn clinical hours.
“Brenau is going to be the first group working with Hope Ripples,” said Associate Professor of Nursing Becky Metcalfe, who was already volunteering with the organization prior to the new clinical partnership. “We’ll follow patients who have been sent home during their 14 days of quarantine, making sure to communicate what symptoms to watch for. When necessary, we’ll connect them to resources like food, medicine—anything they need.”
Students meet nightly online with a professor and other students to discuss their clients’ needs as well as their experiences in general. For nursing major Tenkela Williams, that includes gaining valuable experience in the field while also helping others.
“It will not only assist in my communication skills with clients, but it will also provide others with the necessary support they need to get through this virus and not feel as if they are alone throughout the process,” Williams said. “Without this one-on-one interaction, I would not feel as confident entering into the nursing profession.”
All of this is done via phone or Zoom, and volunteers follow a strict script with information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The CDC has been at the forefront of educating and protecting the public in regard to COVID-19, and that’s a big part of the job for Christy Smith, a quarantine public health advisor for the CDC and psychology student working on her master’s in clinical counseling at Brenau.
Smith is part of the preparedness team that works with quarantine stations at the land borders and the two major airports in Georgia—Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport and Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport. She is tasked with safeguarding the public by staying in close contact with the quarantine teams if they have to respond to a sick traveler. That includes creating and executing various plans with partners such as U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Throughout the year, the plans are worked on and practiced in case an outbreak occurs.
While she isn’t providing hands-on care, Smith, who in five years at the CDC has also been involved with responses to other viruses such as Ebola and Zika, is still hard at work preparing those who are in direct contact with the travelers to make sure illnesses do not enter the country. With COVID-19, the team has now switched to response mode, meaning those plans are put into action.
“Everybody has been coming together to respond to this pandemic,” Smith said. “All the effort that is being done to carry out these plans has always been there, but it’s magnified now. I’m proud to be part of it, even though it may not be recognized as much. I see it firsthand, and I know that we have extremely talented people doing difficult work.”
This article was edited slightly from the original version appearing on the Brenau University website.