As temperatures dip and demand for COVID-19 tests rise, teams of nurses work steadily to see patients—and stay warm—at Spectrum Health’s drive-up specimen collection site.
On a recent day, more than 750 patients had appointments scheduled at the outdoor site at 1300 Michigan St. NE.
All day long, the nurses, wearing gowns and masks, greeted patients at their car windows and collected samples needed to run a test.
“There are days when we are busy and everyone is just exhausted at the end of a shift,” said Carrissa Stalsonburg, RN, the nurse manager.
But the nurses on the team watch out for each other, changing roles and sharing the workload. If one is extra tired, someone else steps up to help out.
“I call this the dream team,” Stalsonburg said. “I am so blessed to be part of this team and help guide these folks. We are doing a lot here.”
Patients need an appointment to get tested at the drive-up site. The fastest way to schedule a test is through Spectrum Health’s MyChart, Stalsonburg said.
Depending on the patient’s symptoms, the nurses collect a specimen either through a swab of the nostrils or with a nasal pharyngeal swab, which goes through the nose to the point where the back of the nose meets the throat.
To stay more comfortable on chilly days, the team has winterized the drive-through site, replacing the tent with sturdier structures that offer more shelter from the elements.
Four steel shipping containers, each 40 feet long, provide a garage-like space where nurses greet patients in their cars and collect specimens.
“The patients pull in, get swabbed, and pull out the back side,” Stalsonburg said.
Heaters provide warmth. And baby bottle warmers keep containers of hand sanitizer at a comfortable temperature.
Through the long days, Stalsonburg reminds herself that she is witnessing history.
And Stalsonburg respects the dedication of the nurses, whom she calls “the cream of the crop.” They provide a crucial health care role during a pandemic that is unlike anything else they have witnessed in health care.
“This is history-making,” she said. “When my grandkids are older, they are going to look back on this like we did on the Spanish flu of 1918.”
Meet a few of the members of the team:
Janet Regan, RN
After 30 years as a nurse at Spectrum Health, Regan feels honored to work on the front lines during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We know we are doing a true service for everybody,” she said. “It’s like a hidden enemy and we are here to fight it.”
Collecting specimens for testing at the drive-up site requires a willingness to work outdoors. After enduring 90-degree days in the summer, Regan now is adapting to the cold—and bracing for the truly frigid days of winter.
She expects the nurses will handle the colder temperatures just as they handled hot weather. They have warm snow pants and heated vests on the way.
Regan sees her job as a way to educate patients and help prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus.
After a specimen is collected, patients receive postcards that contain instructions on what to do if they test positive.
“That’s your homework,” Regan tells them. She encourages everyone to think about preparing for possible quarantine.
And she urges everyone to wear a mask.
“Why not wear the mask just to protect your fellow man?” she asks.
Marleah Overeiner, RN
Many people who drive up for testing are nervous—either about having COVID-19 or the nasal swab.
Marleah Overeiner, RN, reassures patients who may have heard dramatic stories about the specimen collection.
“Everyone thinks we are taking their brain matter out when we do the deeper swabs,” she said.
“But you just do your best to calm them down and walk people through the process. And hopefully we are pretty quick and efficient and then they are on their way.”
Despite some nervousness, most patients offer praise for the team collecting specimens at the drive-up site.
“People are very thankful for this service,” Overeiner said. “It’s nice to hear.”
As a receptionist, Hasan Majeed sees the nervousness in patients as they roll down their window to speak to him.
“Some are really sick and I can’t hear what they are saying,” he said. “I have them speak as loud as they can or hold up their driver’s license.”
He’s impressed by the kindness of the patients, even those who are sick or nervous.
“Honestly, it makes me feel great—I hear a lot of positive comments coming from our patients,” he said. “That just affirms that we are doing a good job here.”
Majeed, who just started working at Spectrum Health six weeks ago, calls this his “dream job.”
He appreciates the camaraderie shared by the specimen collection team.
Throughout the daily challenges, “We do a really great job working together and not stressing each other out,” he said. “We are always tackling it as a team.”
Jennie Clevenger, RN
A sense of mission drives Jennie Clevenger, RN.
She applied for a position at the COVID-19 specimen collection site and started on the job in early November.
“I wanted to be a nurse that was out there on the front lines trying to help the effort, to make COVID-19 a memory of the past,” she said.
Clevenger urged everyone to do their part to prevent the spread of the virus in the community.
“Stay strong,” she said. “Do your best to wear masks when in public. Wash your hands well, as you’ve been instructed.
“Those things do matter.”
When motivation lags, she encouraged others to think of their family members, neighbors and vulnerable people in the community.
“If we all work together and can do this in solidarity, I believe we can nip COVID-19 in the bud and prevent the spread like we are seeing right now,” she said.
Michelle Bates, RN
When Michelle Bates, RN, first began working at the specimen collection site, “It was a little bit terrifying,” she said. “There were a lot of unknowns.
“But now that we know a little bit more, I feel like we are doing a good service to the community—especially with the number of people we are seeing on a daily basis.”
She left for a while to work in another position in Spectrum Health. But she returned to 1300 Michigan St. NE to help with testing.
“I just really like being on the front lines helping as much as I can with the community,” she said.
Bates understands that people may be weary of taking precautions against COVID-19. But she stressed the importance of preventing the spread of the disease.
“I know people are getting tired of wearing the masks and not being able to go places,” she said. “But it’s really important to do, especially right now and especially as (we are) getting into flu season.
“We need to be diligent still and ride this out until we get a vaccine.”