COVID-19: Pandemic changes patient protocol at SIU Student Health Center

By Tamar Mosby, Sports Editor

In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, many businesses  have closed their doors and several health institutions are changing their protocol to prevent the spread of the virus.

Among these healthcare institutions is the SIU Student Health Center, which has made changes in the areas of appointment scheduling, staffing, patient entry into the facility and of course, executing a specific screening protocol to test patients for COVID-19.

Dr. Ted Grace, director of the SIU Student Health Center, said the amount of staff working at the health center during this time has decreased dramatically.

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“All of our administrative staff, almost the entire second floor, are working from home on their computers,” Grace said. “So, there’s no one in the office for disability support service, wellness, IT or HR. […] If you take the whole building, which has well over 120 staff, I’d say that we’re currently a staff of 50 in the building. A lot of the wellness staff is able to work from home.”

The staffers currently working at the health center include those working in the clinic, pharmacy, both the x-ray and blood testing labs, sanitation and supply management. 

Grace said the counselors and psychiatrists on staff are also coming into the facility to work and are keeping their regular appointments with patients, but he is considering having them work via “telemedicine” which allows them to care for patients at home over the phone.

Normally, the health center allows patients to make appointments online listing their symptoms but new instructions on the site inform patients to call in appointments instead of scheduling them online.

“We took down our online scheduling, so everyone calls now because we want to give them directions on what to do if they’re sick,” Grace said. “We want them to know that they are going to be met at the door by nurses and that a mask will be put on them.”

Grace said the facility has locked its back doors and that patients are now only authorized to enter through the front doors. 

While the student health center is seeing regular patients, they have temporarily ceased scheduling routine appointments, such as pap smears, for patients.

Currently, the health center’s main focus is preventing the spread of COVID-19 by screening patients who fit the criteria and taking precautionary measures for each individual entering the building.

Clinical physician Dr. Andrew Riffey has been one of the facility’s primary doctors working with potential COVID-19 patients.

“We are currently telling patients with mild symptoms to stay home and treat those symptoms the best that they can. If the symptoms get worse, we recommend that they call back and schedule an appointment at the clinic,” Riffey said.

Until recently, Illinois physicians were required by the Illinois Department of Public Health to screen potential patients with chest x-rays but now the number of chest x-rays done on patients in the student health center has decreased as the tests can be expensive and fewer patients are in need of them.

Riffey said instead of chest x-rays, potential coronavirus patients are taken to isolation rooms where minor respiratory tests are run and they are asked a series of screening questions.

If the patients screened by Grace and his staff meet the criteria insofar as symptoms, they are put in contact with the Southern Illinois Healthcare COVID-19 hotline for faster results.

“We do have the ability to swab patients here, but the down side to that is that we don’t have a rapid test result because they have to be sent out,” Riffey said. “If we do them here, they have to be sent out to Quest Labs […] and we have to wait for them to get the results. We aren’t able to send tests through the state lab right now because there are patient circumstances that are not likely to be met by any of our students that come in at this time.”

Individuals who have not been screened by the SIU Student Health Center are still able to call the SIH COVID-19 Hotline, as they have a screening process of their own.

“Calling this hotline reduces unnecessary clinic and emergency department visits,” SIH Director of Communications Rosalind Rice said. “We have clinicians walk through the current screening criteria with every caller. We find out what their symptoms are, their travel history, things like that. If after that initial call, it is determined that that caller needs to speak with one of our [healthcare] providers […] the call becomes a virtual visit, so they are either transferred to or receive a call from a healthcare provider. Depending on the outcome of that, folks will be given treatment options.”

 Rice said SIH has currently set up COVID-19 drive-through testing in three Southern Illinois locations: Murphysboro, Harrisburg and the Marion Urgent Care.

Due to limits on testing supplies, SIH requires anyone who appears at the testing locations to have passed their patient screening on the COVID-19 hotline.

“Early on, we were sending specimens to the Illinois Department of Public Health’s lab here in Carbondale but now some commercial health labs […] are starting to become available,” Rice aid. “Now testing options are still limited but as more of these commercial lab options become available, we are able to have more options [for testing].”

If you or someone you know are experiencing symptoms to those similar of COVID-19, call the SIU Student Health Center at (618) 453-3311 to make an appointment or the SIH COVID-19 hotline to be screened at (844)-988-7800.

Sports desk editor Tāmar Mosby can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at @mosbytamar.

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