It was late June when Ami Driscoll was asked to lead the team at the COVID-19 Response Unit (CRU) testing site at Notre Dame Stadium. There was a lot of ground to cover to have it operational in time for the start of classes August 10.
Fortunately, like so many CRU members, Driscoll, pictured above left, had been preparing for this moment her entire career.
The registered nurse and certified emergency medical technician (EMT) is the assistant director of Medical Outreach with the Notre Dame Fire Department (NDFD). She oversees medical coverage for athletic and other University events, and regularly works with area nurses, physicians, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, medical volunteers and students, among other duties.
Her eight years at Notre Dame also includes working as a staff nurse at University Health Services (UHS), where students are treated, and as the assistant director of Game Day, helping facilitate home games and other large-scale events on campus.
Driscoll hit the ground running, first setting up a front office, made up of staff reassigned from departments across the University, and then establishing the medical team, starting with NDFD’s on-call nurses.
“Then we added a lot more medical staff with EMTs and PCAs (patient care assistants) and (more) nurses to help test, plus additional administrative support to check patients in and out,” Driscoll said.
“We put on our operations hats and said, OK, if this, then that could happen; and if this, then that can happen; and let's make sure that the gates open wide enough so we can do this or that.”
Of course there were other moving parts to consider, such as whether the testing site should be shut down during home football games? (Yes.) Operationally, they discussed personnel.
“We talked about existing staff that could help out, like the usher program out of athletics. Ushers have strong greeting capabilities and a knowledge of campus. Parking Services could help with traffic and safety logistics. So we brought in those two groups initially,” Driscoll said.
Fast forward several weeks, at Gate D ushers greet walk-up patients with appointments for COVID-19 tests or surveillance screenings, instructing each person to follow arrows on the pavement to the registration desk and then a medical bay for testing. (See video.) Ushers inside the concourse guide patients to a physically distanced waiting area and, if needed, to the housing desk for quarantine or isolation assignments. Parking Services personnel, meanwhile, greet patients coming to the drive-thru portion of the testing site. (See video.)
"I cannot begin to express how incredibly moved and grateful we are to the hundreds of talented staff members who have answered our invitation to help the University navigate this unprecedented challenge by serving in the CRU. They represent the very best of Notre Dame. We are blessed to be on this journey together serving Our Lady's University." ~Michael D. Seamon, Vice President for Campus Safety and University Operations
Overseeing the testing center and all emergency operations associated with the University’s COVID-19 response is Tracy Skibins, senior director of Emergency Management.
“When Father John made the decision in May to have in-person learning this fall and to start two weeks earlier than most other schools, we got to work as quickly and as efficiently and as intelligently as we could to make sure that happened,” Skibins said.
“We spent a lot of time coming up with things we absolutely knew we needed, like contact tracers, and trying to determine how many we needed. And we knew we wanted to have a 24-hour COVID hotline. We started small and it just expanded to make sure we offer the best services possible for the University.”
There were many successes, but also some hard lessons learned along the way due to what the University has acknowledged were setbacks in the early going.
“Originally, our contact tracers were also making sure the students in quarantine and isolation had their cares and needs addressed. We quickly realized that was just too much for them to do, and we created the Daily Care and Concern team, which is one of the beautiful things to come of all this,” said Skibins.
(Read about the Daily Care and Concern team, which was established by Margaret Morgan, director of student support and care and Heather Christopherson, associate vice president for Advancement Services, and others.)
Notre Dame is getting noticed by other Universities for its best practices in COVID response and Skibins is receiving calls from many of them.
“I tell them there’s no easy answer to offer about how we came up with this or that. It came in pieces. We identified what we knew we needed and figured out how to build it from there. I had one university reach out to me recently just about the meal delivery service,” she said.
Next month will mark Skibins’ first year in the job and her second stint at Notre Dame — she spent 15 years here as an Notre Dame Police Department (NDPD) officer. What she knew then and has witnessed many times during these past few months is the campus community is there for each other.
"I feel so humbled to be a part of something so great,” Skibins said.
Kyle Johnson, senior director of finance and administration in the Campus Safety and University Operations division, feels the same way. “I don’t know that anything really prepared me for this work other than my love of Notre Dame,” he said.
Johnson and Carol Mullaney, senior director for the Office of Sustainability, came to the testing site a few weeks ago to oversee the administrative and operational processes, look for opportunities for process improvement, and, in Mullaney’s case, manage the volunteer pool.
“The team working here is phenomenal — from the medical professionals and the administrative team assigned here, away from their normal jobs, to the gracious willingness of people from different departments to volunteer,” Mullaney said.
“I think every single individual cares immensely about our students and wants to do whatever we can to make sure students are able to stay here in person,” she added.
Johnson spoke to NDWorks around the anniversary of 9/11. He likened the atmosphere at Notre Dame now to the patriotism most Americans felt in the weeks and months that followed Sept. 11, 2001.
“There were people of all different opinions and belief systems that were just all of a sudden American, right?” Johnson said. “And here we have people who are from different divisions and departments, but now we’re all just Notre Dame. Nobody cares what your title is. We’re just here to support the University’s mission. Kind of like we saw 19 years ago with our nation.”
So many individuals and departments have contributed to CRU efforts, there’s almost too many to name for fear someone might inadvertently be left out.
“It’s taken everyone’s help,” Driscoll said. “The Office of Information Technologies has been incredible, connecting UHS and the Wellness Center to the testing site. Facilities teams worked with outside community partners to assemble the tents. NDFD, NDPD, Facilities and Risk Management come through to make sure the temporary structures are safe and the patient and staff pathways are clear. Transportation and General Services are helping us get the disinfecting products we need, and Procurement Services and NDFD are ordering our daily PPE (personal protective equipment) and supplies. Building Services disinfects the medical bays and the entire area and makes sure we have hand sanitizer. St. Michael’s is making sure our scrubs are laundered...”
While the University’s COVID response is far from over, there has been time to gain some perspective.
“I think we’ll look back on this one day and say, wow, look at what we were able to do,” Skibins said.