When COVID-19 threatened Orange County, one nursing leader from the UCI Sue & Bill Gross School of Nursing stepped up to lead the charge in the detection of the virus to save her community.
In just four days, Susanne Phillips, DNP, rallied a team of nurse practitioners that was able to get some of Orange County’s first drive-through screening sites up and running to meet the growing demand for coronavirus testing. This effort has now expanded to a third and fourth location.
It was no small feat.
Coordinating the backend details
“There are so many backend details that go into an operation like this,” says Phillips’ colleague Susan Tiso, DNP, a clinical professor at the nursing school who also runs one of the testing locations.
UCI Medical Center leadership chose the ideal locations for testing, gaining fire marshal approval, and then reached out to Phillips, the chair of NP Faculty Practice, to assist with coordination, clinical staffing and development of clinical protocols.
Next, Phillips collaborated with hospital leadership from Ambulatory Care Administration, Epidemiology and Infection Prevention, Information Technology, Pathology & Laboratory Services, Environmental Health and Safety, and Public Safety to implement new clinical processes and protocols while being mindful of a maze of regulations, resources and compliance.
She has consulted with clinical and administrative leadership at a third location to implement testing at that site as well.
With the support of leadership from all of these departments, Phillips provides clinical leadership onsite to ensure the host of teams are able to support the test sites and keep them running efficiently.
COVID-19 test site teams
Phillips’ work and preparation has ensured that each test site is a fine-tuned operation:
- Each location has a testing team consisting of a nurse practitioner and a licensed vocational nurse (LVN) or a medical assistant.
- Security is at each site to manage the flow of traffic and assist as needed.
- Lab couriers routinely pick up and transport specimens for testing.
- A COVID-19 triage team screens all patients for testing eligibility.
Each person recommended for testing is registered in UCI Health’s electronic medical records system and given an appointment. No walk-ins are allowed.
‘It’s really a miracle’
“Susanne really helped to glue this together in many ways,” says Tiso. “It’s really a miracle that this moved and opened so quickly with such a smooth and well thought-out process behind it,” says Tiso, who has also been instrumental in developing personal protective equipment for the front line staff in addition to running another COVID-19 testing site.
So far, the teams have run about 500 tests and counting.
“It was a giant effort for everyone involved,” says Phillips.
Thankfully, the first week the site was open was slow. It gave the team an opportunity to work out any issues in the process before it became busier.
Nurse practitioners: more than testing
Phillips and her team have accomplished this while our community is faced with an unprecedented battle against a global pandemic and fears are running high. Every day, they are on the front lines.
She notes that they are doing far more than testing patients. They’re assessing and triaging them, answering questions, educating them about their symptoms, offering guidance on over-the-counter medicines that may offer relief and more.
“People are so thankful,” she says. “And it gives me the opportunity to go back to my nursing roots. It has been busy, but very fulfilling. This may be one of the most fulfilling moments of my career.”
Working double and triple time
In fact, says Tiso, all of the nurse practitioners at the School of Nursing have shifted their schedules to work double time.
Phillips herself works triple time as a nurse practitioner, running the test sites and serving as associate dean of clinical affairs in the school of nursing.
On the weekends, she calls patients who have received positive test results and gives them further guidance. She also prepares for the changes to protocols for the week ahead.
Patients with a negative result are usually notified through their MyChart accounts, however, the onsite LVN provides phone calls to those who do not have access.
Phillips and the test site nurse practitioners are an example of what makes the nurses at UCI so unique and special: The faculty serve as both educators and clinicians in the field.
“Phillips’ commitment to health and wellness, leadership and innovative thinking is now restoring our community’s health when uncertainty is the new norm,” says nursing school Dean Adey Nyamathi, PhD, ANP, FAAN.
About nurse practitioners
Phillips is also a board-certified family nurse practitioner, one of the four advanced practice registered nursing roles. She also serves as a primary care provider.
Those with a DNP degree are often located in high need, high poverty areas. They see vulnerable patients and provide treatment and community resources to restore their health.
Because of a shortage of physicians in California, the demand for caring and compassionate nurse leaders like Phillips is growing.