John Harris, DMU’s director of facilities management, got the first memo on the coronavirus on Jan. 30 from UG2, the private facilities services company the University contracts with. As he continued to get weekly updates and the virus “started getting closer to home,” Harris and his team, with the support of DMU leaders, leapt into action.
They created a COVID-19-specific emergency response team and a campus action plan that began March 9 with increasing the number of hand sanitizer stations around campus to more than 70. Campus hours were reduced. Building access was monitored and limited to students and employees. Facilities staff began sanitizing high-touch areas three times a day. The department stocked up on six months’ worth of supplies, including cleaning supplies, masks and toilet paper.
“We took an educated approach and steps to give everyone confidence,” he says. “We want everyone to feel comfortable and safe so they can concentrate on what they’re here to do.”
That “here” went partially virtual after spring break. The University implemented a work-from-home plan for many employees, and courses went online. That required DMU’s academic leaders, information technology services (ITS) staff and Center for Educational Enhancement (CEE) staff to develop and launch a plan during spring break.
“A conference call we had at 4 p.m. on March 9 was when our lives changed drastically,” recalls Carlyn Cox, M.A., director of educational technology. “Fortunately, ITS had a lot of infrastructure pieces in place that we needed to transition.
“I was incredibly impressed with how the faculty handled the situation,” she adds. “There was a sense that we’re all going to get through this together. Everyone stayed calm even with all variables we can’t control.”
Student counseling center staff worked to provide services in a “completely new way” early in the pandemic, says center director Ciara Lewis, Psy.D., M.A. When they changed to all remote services, they needed to make sure the technology would maintain confidentiality. As the pandemic has dragged on, staff have provided group sessions, resources and other outreach to show students “we’re still here for you,” she adds.
“In the beginning, students were saying, ‘I’m doing all right; I’m at home with my loved ones,’” Lewis says. “As the pandemic has stretched on, it has created a sense of unreality and isolation.”
Of course, not all employees were able to work remotely. The DMU Family Medicine Clinic, Foot and Ankle and radiology remained open, providing telehealth services while constantly updating protocols based on information from the CDC and World Health Organization.
“We also made a lot of intentional phone calls reaching out to our high-risk populations to check in with them – not just those we considered physically high-risk such as the elderly or those with autoimmune issues, but also our patients who we considered mentally high-risk with a history of anxiety and depression,” says Megan Johnson, M.S.N., R.N., OCN, practice manager for the family medicine clinic and radiology. “I have been so impressed to see how my team came together and have really just held each other up, adjusting without complaint when we were short-staffed and exposed to illnesses.”
The DMU Library stayed open as did areas of campus that allow safe physical distancing to accommodate students who needed to come to campus to study.
“Many students, including second-year D.O. student prepping for boards, very much appreciated having a family space to study,” says Brian Pinney, Ph.D., an instructional design and education support specialist in CEE. He also had hundreds of board prep meetings with individual students via Zoom.
The pandemic shut down in-person programs offered by the University’s continuing medical education (CME), but it didn’t diminish demand for them; they all moved online. That has been a benefit to health professionals who need CME to maintain, develop or increase their knowledge and skills.
“We’re now nationwide and even had international participants in our programs, which is great for DMU’s reputation,” says Vanessa Gray, CMP, CHCP, M.H.A., CME director. “We’ve offered some online training for our preceptors, which has been well received. We’re evaluating programs we previously did in person to determine if we can offer them online.”
University faculty and staff continue to make adjustments. This fall, the 1,559 students enrolled in DMU’s eight academic programs received a letter from University President and CEO Angela Walker Franklin, Ph.D., along with a DMU-branded face shield and a reusable protective gown, provided by donors to the DMU Fund. “I applaud all for your perseverance, patience and strength as we navigate the new world changed by the COVID-19 pandemic,” President Franklin stated.
The simulation center assisted the osteopathic medicine, podiatric medicine and physician assistant programs in the virtualization of medical mannequin-based encounters, standardized patient encounters and basic medical and surgical skills sessions. As clinical rotations were being canceled, DMU acquired tools of technology to mimic those experiences, allowing students to complete their requirements. ITS also teamed up with the anatomy department to pivot to a web-based platform, the Visible Body®, that allows instructors to conduct virtual anatomy labs, assign interactive homework, quiz students and create their own anatomical images and videos.
“The whole culture of the University has been shifting to be more amenable to doing things virtually,” says Carolyn Weaver, chief information officer. “There were silver linings in seeing how people have been flexible, creative and willing to adapt.”