Exactly one year ago, our lives were completely changed as COVID-19 was declared a national pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO). With the unprecedented times came a need for unprecedented creativity to continue providing access to campus resources for students. Although campus closed, Student Health Services found a way to accommodate student needs.
At the time, most of the University was closing, and Student Health Services worked to do what it could to continue to serve students. Dr. Wendy Schuh, director of Student Health Services, now acknowledges, “We had many long, difficult conversations about that…. and did not know nearly as much as we know now. We decided that it’d be important to stay open but needed to do things like separate our well visits from anyone who had COVID symptoms and reconfigure our space to allow for social distancing.”
Student Health Services worked closely with Residential Life and Environmental Health and Safety to find a safe space to open an upper clinic, in Carkoski Commons, to see students and begin testing those with COVID-19 symptoms. A space that once housed administrative offices was renovated; they brought in exam tables, installed a sink, calculated air circulation times needed between testing appointments and were able to get the clinic up and running before students returned to campus for the Fall 2020 semester.
In addition to the upper clinic, Student Health Services found a variety of ways to alter services to meet student needs. Despite low numbers of students living on campus, the clinic still saw more than 3,200 students for more than 7,700 medical visits in 2020.
“Some students need that continuity of care to meet their healthcare needs,” Schuh said.
The different functional areas of Student Health Services worked collaboratively to adjust services to continue to meet student needs. The Medical Clinic remained open for in-person visits but also began offering more virtual appointments through Zoom Health, a HIPAA-compliant meeting tool. The clinic also enabled a secure message feature on Medicat, its medical record system, to provide more open communication between students and providers.
Additionally, a healthcare hotline (507-389-5591) was created and staffed by a nurse or medical provider every weekday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. to answer students’ questions about symptoms, testing, isolation and quarantine. They also hired a graduate intern to meet with students, some of whom had never been on campus because of COVID, and connect them with campus resources to aid in their success.
Furthermore, the Pharmacy began sending mail order prescriptions and over-the-counter supplies to students for the first time. Telepsychiatry partners through the Minnesota State Collaborative Partnership were offered this same service to meet the needs of students struggling at other Minnesota State campuses too.
The Office of Student Affairs hired a COVID Case Manager housed in Health Education to help track COVID cases related to the University and serve as a liaison to the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH). Additionally, alcohol and drug sanction education programs moved online to keep students and staff safe, and the Student Health PROs continued to meet virtually to find creative ways to carry on programming and messaging around campus.
As Minnesota State University, Mankato looks to the future and to the realities of a post-COVID society, the University also has to consider what changes to keep. COVID has demonstrated semester after semester just how important Student Health Services is and how lucky the campus is to have such a valuable resource for students.
Even when students come back to campus, online resources will still serve as a way to increase access to services.
“I don’t think telehealth is going anywhere.” Schuh says. “Most people prefer to see their provider in person; it’s just natural to have that in-person relationship. But telehealth can address barriers such as students being out of town, going home for the semester or being under isolation or quarantine. Technology is a vehicle to help us care for our students, which has really pushed us to the next level.”
As the long-term effects of COVID linger on campus, Student Health Services will continue to meet students’ physical and mental needs while they plan for a free-standing, comprehensive facility to expand services within the next 10 years.