EMU nursing faculty and students join forces with IHA to fight COVID-19

Students and faculty from Eastern Michigan University's (EMU) School of Nursing have joined forces with physician group IHA to help manage the COVID-19 outbreak in Washtenaw County.


Nursing school staff and students are now working at drive-through COVID-19 testing centers in Brighton and Ann Arbor. Faculty or students who are already licensed nurses can do swabs. Nurse practitioner staff are also being trained and credentialed through IHA so they can help with the screening process. And those who don't yet have their credentials can serve in other capacities, like directing traffic or transporting samples.


Michael Williams, director of the School of Nursing, says staff began planning for this contingency back in February.


"Several of us were pessimistic and were saying that if (the outbreak) became full-blown like in Wuhan, we'd better be prepared," Williams says. "We all took the attitude that we should plan for the worst but hope for the best, and as a result, we were able to mobilize" fairly soon after EMU's campus was shut down, he says.


There was a short delay between when the campus closed and the nursing students started volunteering on March 23 because volunteers had to go through an application and screening process in order to be covered by IHA's insurance.


Williams says 30 faculty members are trained nurses, and about three-quarters of part-time instructors are also nurses. Additionally, hundreds of students are already working as nurses but were at EMU to upgrade to master's or doctoral degrees. Staff knew it would be helpful to "harness this resource" to help out during the virus pandemic, so they reached out to the Washtenaw County Health Department and IHA to ask how they could help, Williams says.


Originally, IHA thought nurses and nursing students could man a COVID-19 crisis call center, but that center is so overwhelmed that its phone lines keep going down, so those plans have been delayed. In the meantime, EMU is working on figuring out how to provide HIPAA-compliant telehealth consultations.


In addition to faculty and students' work on the front lines, the School of Nursing also held a donation drive that collected 100,000 items, including gloves, surgical masks, N95 masks, gowns, wipes, goggles, and other protective gear to be donated to the St. Joseph Mercy Health System.


Williams says EMU also donated about 10,000 transparency sheets to make face shields. The sheets are no longer used in the classroom and were just sitting in supply closets. Williams says a nurse at St. Joe's devised a way to make the shields using transparency sheets, hot glue, and foam.


Members of the public are welcome to make donations of medical supplies at EMU's Department of Public Safety building, located at 1200 Oakwood St. in Ypsilanti.

For more Concentrate coverage of our community's response to the COVID-19 crisis, click here.


Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in Ypsilanti Township and the project manager of On the Ground Ypsilanti. She joined Concentrate as a news writer in early 2017 and is an occasional contributor to other Issue Media Group publications. You may reach her at sarahrigg1@gmail.com.

Photo courtesy of EMU's School of Nursing.

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