Belmont Nursing Students Provide Critical Support for State, Local COVID19 Hotlines

Volunteers at the Call Center

Belmont nursing students jumped at the chance to help out during a time of crisis. Caleb Smith, Rachel Poston, Peyton Rivers, William Pegram, Mariam Fakhar, Leigh Holdsambeck and Sally Dean teamed up with other student nursing volunteers from Middle Tennessee State University to provide critical support for several public information lines in Tennessee.

Headquartered at either the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency (TEMA) or the Metro Nashville Health Department (MHD), COVID19 hotlines were established to meet a dramatic uptick in calls from Tennesseans searching for reliable information as the number of cases started to rise.

Dean of the College of Health Sciences and Nursing Dr. Cathy Taylor said she was alerted to the critical need for hotline staff just as hospitals and clinics began closing to student clinical rotations. “Students, especially if they are near graduation, need clinical hours; hotline calls were exploding, and a win-win solution emerged,” she explained. “The first Belmont students were trained and taking calls the next day, and our longstanding academic-practice partnership with public health grew even stronger.”

Calls at the centers range from questions about exposure and testing to how people can get care if they have no insurance. Many calls are from people who are uncertain and anxious about conflicting messages and unemployment, while other callers need to know how to access legal or other services.  

In just a few days, Belmont students have logged more than 1,000 hours and answered hundreds of calls. They describe the experience so far as unexpectedly exciting, rich and rewarding. One student reported using “every therapeutic communication skill I’ve learned.” Others have become disease detectives “in the thick of things,” tracking individuals who have tested positive about the illness and their symptoms. Several students report new respect for the flexibility and teamwork skills required by public health nurses, and one student called the experience a “once in a lifetime” opportunity.

Earlier this week, Tennessee Department of Health Commissioner Dr. Lisa Piercey stopped by to thank them for their hard work.

“All nurses are public health nurses. These students have had an unfortunate, yet extraordinary opportunity to learn the true meaning of these words,” said Taylor.

The centers are, of course, following strict guidelines for social distancing. Students were screened by the Army Guard for admission and were trained by TDH employees. Each work table is spaced at least six feet apart and has its own disinfecting wipes. Both undergraduate and graduate students are working the hotlines, but graduate nursing students will help at testing centers when they open.