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City of Rochester
  • 2020-05-04
  • Anna Loria

COVID-19 in the Community: The Golden Eagle Response

Whether on the frontlines or behind the scenes, students, alumni, and faculty use their passion and expertise to stimulate community comfort in a time of crisis.

In an era when health professionals and first responders are going the extra mile, creators and entrepreneurs are focused on community needs, and teachers and learners are applying their education for the greater good, the SUNY Brockport community is making a difference. Students, alumni, and faculty members all over are using their varied backgrounds, skills, knowledge, and passions to serve humanity as it faces COVID-19.

Nursing Students and Faculty Volunteering as Frontline Responders

County health vans

When Monroe County's Emergency Operation Center put out a call for frontline COVID-19 responders, faculty and students in the College's Family Nurse Practitioner program were among the local community members equipped to answer it.

Since March, the county's Medical Reserve Corps volunteers have been working daily to administer COVID-19 testing, perform home assessments, and serve quarantine and isolation orders. 

Professor of Nursing Elizabeth Heavey, who directs the nursing graduate program, as well as graduate students Wes Fingar, Lisa Grolling, and Amy Mayfied, have taken on one to two volunteer shifts per week as they continue their work as full-time registered nurses. Some of their days staffing the county's health department vans have been spent traveling to individual homes, while others are focused on ensuring safety for the community's homeless population. Above all, they're providing testing, care, and supplies where they're needed most.

"Any time we can engage and assist within our own community, students develop a greater understanding of what a large-scale public health response involves and how a disease impacts various populations. At the same time, we can provide support when community care must be scaled up rapidly in a time of crisis," said Heavey.

Many of the alumni who once took Heavey's Epidemiology for Nurses course, which she has taught for the last 10 years, are now finding themselves translating their simulated pandemic preparation into real-life practice.

"Nursing alumni working in New York City are facing many of the dilemmas and choices we discussed and considered in circumstances I had hoped they would never actually be in. There is a terrible anguish for both patients and health care workers when health systems are beyond capacity and there isn't adequate personal protective equipment," said Heavey. "They are exhausted, getting sick, and watching patients die around them every day. That is a nightmare that I am hoping will never reach our area and one that we have to remain committed to preventing."

While school and work kept Fingar from contributing to community health needs in New York City, as he hoped he could, he was eager to leverage the opportunity to contribute at the local level. Breakthrough moments included his chance to adequately quarantine an infected patient and to perform check-ins with community members isolated in a local hotel.

"It really felt great to be able to use my nursing experience to pitch in for the good of the community," said Fingar.

As the frontline responders perform their part, Heavey expresses the need for all to remain diligent about following guidelines and procedures as the county begins to reopen.

"We were successful in flattening our first peak, and I hope we are able to do the same for those that are likely to occur in the future," she said.

Mass Mask Production Taking Place on Campus

Homemade Face Covering

The ends of semesters in Tower Fine Arts Center are usually characterized by excited anticipation, final fittings, and last rehearsals as students and faculty in the Department of Theatre and Music Studies prepare for spring productions.

Despite show cancellations and a mostly empty building resulting from COVID-19 precautions, the campus costume shop remains bustling. The talent within it is needed now more than ever.

In the last couple of months, Costume Designer and Associate Professor Gail Argetsinger along with her work-study student assistant, freshman English major Grace Hall, have produced more than 1,000 masks for local medical personnel, first responders, nursing homes, and groups on campus. The pair works side by side (a safe distance apart) each day, assembling about 25 masks in a typical six-hour shift.

Argetsinger's favorite local craft store had partnered with a group of medical personnel in need of pleated filter masks. While the professor and her protege volunteered to make about 300 for that program, the need for their skills and diligence didn't end there. After learning of the need for both masks and cloth face coverings from Brockport Auxiliary Service Corporation (BASC) and other campus and community groups, their operation has steadily ramped up.

"These face coverings were distributed to our dining team members who have been serving the resident students who remain on campus. They were a huge help during a critical time when we needed to obtain masks quickly and supply was limited. Gail was able to produce the quantity that we needed on a very short turnaround," said Anna Hintz, assistant executive director of BASC.

The production of the highly sought after medical-grade filter masks requires just two pieces of fabric (which must first be washed and dried at high temperatures), elastic, a filter, and a domestic sewing machine. After expending a surplus of cotton calico and other materials left over in the costume shop, Argetsinger has begun purchasing the required materials in order to fulfill the continued need. Her son is even helping to transport the masks once they're completed.

Others on campus with a sewing talent are contributing, as well, including Geraldine Montouroy, a lecturer and the costume shop manager; Emma Scholl, the costumer for the Department of Dance; Theresa Martinez, an upholsterer for Facilities and Planning, and Elizabeth Banner, a music lecturer.

"Everyone that I know who sews is making masks for somebody," said Argetsinger, who has continued to teach her costuming courses online in addition to this endeavor. "Instead of just sitting here and spinning our wheels and waiting for it to end, I think it's a great opportunity for people to step up and do community service."

Argetsinger encourages those looking to join the homemade mask effort in Rochester to visit

Nursing Alum Improving Patient-Family Connections Through Phone Charger Collection

In addition to the hundreds of Brockport graduates dedicating their all on the floors of upstate New York's hospitals and other medical facilities each day, one nursing alum downstate has taken a uniquely thoughtful approach to improving patient care in a time of severely heightened emergency.

Saige Amoruso '17 is an emergency room nurse at Long Island Jewish in Valley Stream, NY, a small 22-bed emergency department that had been admitting 75 or more patients per day during the COVID-19 surge. After she witnessed a patient seek to leave the hospital in order to charge their phone for a family call, something within her struck.

"I can go on and on of the terror of these past couple weeks, but it all led me to find the light in all of this. It was one patient's experience that inspired me to take initiative," said Amoruso in an email to her former nursing professor and mentor, Department of Nursing chair Kathleen Peterson.

By starting a Facebook page, calling for Venmo contributions, and creating a network of phone charger donations by parterning with other nurses, Amoruso has raised thousands of dollars in order to generate a supply of phone chargers for patients at four Long Island hospitals.

The chargers have made it possible for patients to provide updates from the hospital, stay connected with family members, or even share their last words with loved ones.

The success of the benevolent Brockport grad's creative solution to a distressing and potentially life-threatening circumstance gained the attention of her local media.

"The original interview was much longer, about 10 minutes, and I mentioned how proud I was to come from a school all the way upstate," Amoruso told Peterson. "That nursing program made me the nurse I am today, and you are the ones responsible for the nurse on News 12 Long Island."

Public Administration Alum Offering Free Resource to Job Seekers and Recruiters

Searching on computer

Amorette Miller '15 knows what it's like to be a job seeker.

Noticing a lack of current, curated job opportunities on national job search engines after she earned her Master of Public Administration, she was inspired to create a local solution. Her newest job title would soon become owner of ShiftDiff, a for-profit job search website tailored to the Rochester market, which she started with her husband Raheem in 2018.

As exposure of her online platform picked up, employers such as Wegmans, Rochester Institute of Technology, University of Rochester, Monroe Community College, Reliant Community Credit Union, Trillium Health, Paychex, and many more became customers of ShiftDiff in order to publicize their vacancies on the platform. But as the era of COVID-19 has brought on a decrease in public services, hiring freezes, and downsizing, both job seekers and employers have taken a hit.

In response, Miller is currently offering any local business the chance to post job opportunities on ShiftDiff for free. Her prior clients will also receive four months of free advertising once COVID-19 subsides.

"Right now, we're not taking in an income. Job seekers still need to find jobs. There are some out there. And employers need to find those job seekers. We want to make it as easy as possible," said Miller.

While she says opportunities are much more scarce than usual, she notices that nursing and senior living home, direct support, call center, sanitation, and human services positions are most prevalent right now in terms of hiring trends.

List or search jobs on ShiftDiff

Last Updated 5/26/21

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