AIC counts among its alumni many healthcare professionals who now find themselves on the front lines of a pandemic that none could have predicted just a year ago. We spoke to a small sample of these essential workers, graduates of the nursing and public health programs, who shared their pandemic stories and how their AIC education readied them for such unexpected changes.
Public Health – Crystal Dugay ’20
BEFORE THE START OF THE PANDEMIC, Crystal Dugay was an intern for the substance use coordinator in the Westfield Health Department. Learning about modes of transmission, communication strategies, and the statistical aspects of public health during her time at AIC, she says, prepared her for her new work in contact tracing.
“Since the pandemic hit, I’ve been doing case investigations, which involve finding out patients’ symptoms and where the patients had been prior to experiencing the symptoms, and symptom check-up in order to move patients out of isolation or quarantine. “My coworkers have been great through the pandemic. The nurses have given me more insight into the disease, the health inspectors have included me in talking about different business situations that have arisen, and the health director has been very open about what could happen or what should be done in certain situations. None of them has panicked; they’ve worked through each new situation by taking baby steps. They’re an inspirational group of people with whom I enjoy working.”
Nursing – Helen Hyuhn ’17
HELEN HYUHN IS A REGISTERED NURSE in the emergency room at Hartford Hospital in Connecticut, and has treated many patients with COVID-19 infections. She credits her AIC professors with teaching her not only the science and methodology of nursing, but also the compassion necessary to excel in the profession.
“To do my part in reducing the burden of this pandemic, I educate my patients on the importance of washing their hands often, avoiding contact with those outside of their direct circle of family, social distancing when in public, and self-quarantining if they present with any symptoms of the virus. I find myself educating patients on the symptoms and prevention of COVID-19 regardless of the reason they are seeking care. “Hartford Hospital has been exceptional as an organization throughout this pandemic. They have given staff weekly updates of CDC guidelines in terms of the proper PPE to protect ourselves, as well as provided educational classes on social distancing. Working in stressful pandemic conditions has definitely brought my coworkers closer and strengthened us into a better team. Nurses, as a whole, have to be resilient and able to adapt to different circumstances, and I am proud to be a part of this team.”
Public Health – Ashley Felix ’17
ASHLEY FELIX, MBA, AN AMBULATORY PRACTICE MANAGER at Brigham and Women’s Faulkner Hospital, cites her capstone project, completed during her undergraduate studies in public health at AIC, for helping prepare her to manage such an outbreak. Felix says she’s become “more involved in clinical decision making” and, thus, seen her responsibilities grow “exponentially” since the start of the pandemic.
“My role has been to restructure the operations of the two neurology clinics I manage. I have had to put new processes in place for both my administrative staff and my providers to adhere to social distancing guidelines. I implemented a work-from-home rotation schedule so that staff can be adequately spread out while working in the office. “I was a key player in the decision to close the clinic for all non-urgent appointments in mid-March, limiting staff exposure to potentially infected patients. … I was part of a team that created a clinic for patients who had tested positive and still needed to be seen within the recommended fourteen-day quarantine before they could be retested. “Our providers still came in every day ready to care for their patients despite the risks they faced. That was the most admirable thing about this entire experience. Our mission before the pandemic was to provide the best care for our patients, and we really exemplified that during this pandemic.”
Public Health – Willbert Garcia Gil ’15
A CLINICAL RISK MANAGER AT BAYSTATE HEALTH, the largest healthcare provider in Western Massachusetts, Willbert Garcia Gil, MBA, says his core courses in public health at AIC laid the academic groundwork to best evaluate the pandemic and its impact on the healthcare system. Though Baystate’s Clinical Safety and Risk Management department implemented new processes to address the pandemic, he says his role went largely unchanged.
“The most inspiring stories come from frontline workers. They provided high-quality care with limited resources. These doctors, nurses, and allied health professionals got up every morning and accepted this new challenge. When patients beat the COVID virus and were safely discharged home, the staff would line up in the halls and play the Rocky theme song over the intercom. As patients walked down the halls to exit the building, the staff would cheer, clap, and give their goodbyes. … We have stuck together in this fight and have celebrated together through each victory. I am proud to work with an organization that is committed to its community and employees.”