- by Mount Saint Mary College

Mount Saint Mary College Nursing students and faculty have been helping local communities to fight against COVID-19 through contact tracing and, recently, by administering COVID-19 vaccines. 

Contact tracing

Over the summer, about a dozen Mount Nursing majors assisted with COVID-19 contact tracing in Orange, Dutchess, and Putnam counties. 

Linda Kelly, assistant Nursing professor at Mount Saint Mary College (right) volunteered to administer COVID-19 vaccinations recently. Her daughter (left) served as a non-vaccinating helper.

Contact tracing helps to track and stop the spread of COVID-19. When an individual tests positive for the virus, contact tracing identifies others who were exposed, so they can take action.

The students, part of Nursing Instructor Antonia Brewer’s Community Health Nursing class, prepared for the task by completing training in the contact tracing field, which was offered by John Hopkins University. Upon completion, they conducted tracing through local health departments as part of their clinical hours. 

Among other skills, Brewer specializes in public health nursing. She has extensive experience with public health agencies, as well as community-based health and human services organizations.

She noted that this firsthand experience in public health gave her students the opportunity “to educate clients, families, and the public about mitigation strategies critical to stopping the spread of COVID,” including quarantining, testing, social distancing, and the use of facial masks.

Brewer added that by responding to this unprecedented public health emergency, this cohort of future nurses is increasing their “depth of understanding of the magnitude, scope, and complexity of…healthcare services in a pandemic.”

Put simply, serving the community is molding these Mount students into more skilled and compassionate nurses.

Carol Wanyo, instructor of Nursing at the Mount, will be leading the next iteration of the college’s Community Health Nursing course. Wanyo has already confirmed clinical placements at the Orange and Putnam Departments of Health, where students will be helping with additional contact tracing and administering COVID vaccines.

“The crux of the college’s clinical work is to serve the community,” said Wanyo. “Whatever the need is for the community is what our Nursing students are working on.”

Administering vaccines

Dozens of Mount Nursing students have administered COVID-19 vaccinations to doctors, nurses, and other staff at four local hospitals, as well as other essential workers in the community.

Under the guidance of Mount Nursing Instructor Lynette DeBellis ‘85 and other healthcare professionals, Mount students administered or helped to administer the vaccine atVassar Brothers Medical Center, Northern Dutchess Hospital, Putnam Hospital, and Montefiore St. Luke’s Cornwall.

The students underwent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) training to become certified vaccinators, DeBellis explained.

The effort paid off for the community, DeBellis said, and it’s also strengthened the Mount students’ nursing ability: “It really helps students not only with their physical skills but also their assessment skills." 

Mount faculty and staff have shared their time and expertise as well. For example, Doreen Bischof, FNP, ’17, director of Health Services at the Mount, recently volunteered to administer the vaccine at a local high school. By chance, the first person she vaccinated was Nancy Benfer ’04, principal of Bishop Dunn Memorial School, part of the Mount Saint Mary College campus.  

By chance, Nancy Benfer ’04, principal of Bishop Dunn Memorial School (left) recently got a COVID-19 vaccination administered by volunteer Doreen Bischof, FNP, ’17, director of Health Services at the Mount.

Another member of the Mount community who has volunteered to administer the vaccine is Linda Kelly, assistant Nursing professor, Kelly served at the Ulster County Department of Health as a vaccinator. She also teamed up with her daughter to participate in vaccination efforts in Ellenville.

Kelly said that “It’s a wonderful experience to be part of history” by helping with the vaccinations, echoing the sentiments of many Mount Nursing students involved in the vaccination process. 

One such student is Jillian Smith of Massapequa Park, N.Y. 

“This gives me a chance to help our healthcare workers and do something on my part to make it a little easier for them,” said Smith. “I’m very happy to be doing this and seeing what it’s like to work in a hospital during this pandemic.” 

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