Campus Community / People of SU

Creating a Safe Place Amid a Pandemic

November 13, 2020

A student sits at computer in Safe Start Welcome Center with Safe Start Health Check web page on screen.

Image credit: Yosef Kalinko

An element of the Safe Start Welcome Center involves College of Nursing students who gain invaluable hands-on experience around population health nursing.

While most Seattle University courses are held online due to the pandemic, campus is still open for essential work, classes and other needs. To safeguard campus, the new Safe Start Welcome Center (SSWC) serves as the first stop for anyone visiting campus who has not already received approval through the online Safe Start Health Check. It’s also a site for the yearlong Population Health Internship (PHI), a required part the College of Nursing undergraduate Bachelor of Science in Nursing program.

Located in the Bannan Building, the center mimics a streamlined clinical setting outfitted with a computer station, temperature reader and personal safety supplies. It is “providing a very rare opportunity for nursing students, during their education program, to learn about and respond to a population health emergency,” says Assistant Professor and PHI Coordinator Jennifer Fricas, PhD, MPH, RN.

Over the summer, Tara Hicks, ARNP, director of the Student Health Center and Kristen Swanson, PhD, RN, Dean of the College of Nursing, discussed the possibility of involving nursing students in ongoing COVID-19 planning.

“Dean Swanson included me in the conversations she was having with various groups … to see how we might involve the PHI students…in meeting the health needs of our own campus community,” says Dr. Fricas, who supervises seven interns.

As part of their preparation for the internship, students have taken COVID-19 Contact Tracing, an online Johns Hopkins/Coursera course and received an orientation from Chris Wilcoxen in Public Safety about center setup and operations. Interns gain experience in engaging with individuals by answering questions about COVID-19. When it comes to controlling an infectious disease outbreak, the importance of symptom and temperature checks and consistent reporting/updating is emphasized.

Each campus visitor is directed to the center for screening, where they’ll begin by completing a Safe Start Health survey on Seattle U’s website in order to rule out any symptoms of COVID-19. Next, interns take their temperature, provide a sticker with the date along with hand sanitizer, education about signs and symptoms of what to watch for and a disposable face mask for those without one.

Interns are also “seeing all the details of how a large organization like Seattle U has to methodically plan for … a community-wide event such as this, which requires coordination among many departments, regular communication and the ability to be adaptable and incorporate new and changing information on a regular basis,” says Dr. Fricas.

The work of the nursing program and the Safe Start Welcome Center are emblematic of a population health model.

“Population health nursing differs from what we typically think of a nurse doing in a couple of ways,” she says. “First, the nurse is caring for populations or communities, not only individuals and families. Second, the focus is on health promotion and disease prevention, rather than on caring for someone who is already ill.”

The focus on population health has been especially illuminating for CON student Carolann Rein, '21.

“Population health nurses disseminate information to everyone. I have talked to students who do not need to be screened but want to be because they felt feverish, spoken with and educated visitors and student’s families, as well as construction workers on-site working at the university,” Rein says. “Education comes in all sizes.”