Health Services has offices on the ground floor of the Olive Swann Porter building. As a nurse practitioner, Health Services Director Ashlie Pullen provides medical treatment for common, non-life-threatening illnesses, treatment of minor injuries, and physical examinations. She also provides personal health education and coordinates programs on health-related topics. Ashlie earned her master of science in nursing degree at Vanderbilt University and is on track to complete her doctor of nursing practice from Indiana Wesleyan University this summer. Before coming to Wesleyan in October of 2018, she worked as a private practice nurse practitioner for fourteen years. WESmag spoke to Ashlie about how COVID-19 has affected her office.
How many students do you see in an average month?
Normally, I see about 100 -150 students a month. Now I’m also providing COVID-19 testing. As of December 17, I have performed 184 tests on campus.
What changed in your office in March 2020?
In March, when the COVID-19 virus forced us into a remote model, I had to think creatively to find ways to reach our students and meet their health needs from a distance. I partnered with a digital platform called Doxy.me to create a telehealth option for students who needed health services remotely. Students were able to access healthcare from their dorm rooms and apartments. I also began sending regular virtual updates and health resource information to the campus community.
What was the initial concern from the campus community?
When we initially began to hear about COVID-19 last winter, a task force was created to meet weekly and make plans for our community. The team included members from student affairs, faculty, physical plant, auxiliary services, communications, IT, residence life, food services, and others. I am incredibly proud of the work this team was able to accomplish under the direction of Provost Melody Blake. Based on guidelines from the CDC and the Department of Public Health, we developed a series of protocols and policies for testing students, what to do if we had a positive case on campus, how we were going to continue to provide housing and dining options for students in quarantine and isolation, and options for remote learning. I believe that we were as prepared as we possibly could have been. We still meet once a month.
During our time off campus from mid-March through mid-July, what were your main responsibilities?
I served as the contact with the local health department and worked as a nurse practitioner at many of the testing facilities during the initial days of the outbreak. I gained experience with testing protocols which have proven valuable here on campus. I also spent two weeks working as a nurse practitioner in New Mexico with an organization called COVID CareForce. There, I was a volunteer with the Navajo Nation, testing for and treating patients with COVID-19. These experiences helped prepare me for the work I am doing on campus this year.
What were your biggest concerns about students returning to campus this fall?
My biggest concern was the uncertainty about how this semester was going to feel with the changes we had to make on campus. Our students have embraced these changes and have made me so incredibly proud. I have been pleasantly surprised at how few cases we have had on campus as compared to the community outbreak we are experiencing in Middle Georgia. I believe our students are exhibiting maturity and demonstrating their willingness to keep one another and their community safe by practicing social distancing and following our guidelines. To date, 41 positive cases have been reported for employees and students both on-campus and off.
What has been the scariest thing from a health perspective in the last 6 months?
As a health provider, the scariest thing for me has been the uncertainty of this virus. I have seen firsthand this virus cause the deaths of entire families and the thought of bringing it home to my own children was a daily fear. In the early days of the pandemic when we didn’t know much about how it was transmitted, I would come home, undress, and shower before I would even allow my children to see me. Those were scary days.
What are you proudest to have accomplished?
Our Wesleyan community has been incredibly respectful of one another. We have pulled together to make the best out of a really difficult situation. Students are genuinely concerned for each other and maintain the required masks and social distancing requirements. Faculty and staff have volunteered to deliver meals and supplies to students in isolation and quarantine. Faculty has had to completely rethink the way that they have been teaching for years. I have seen students learning new ways of discovering sisterhood. I am also proud of the fact that Wesleyan has been approved as a site for the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine distribution. We will be able to offer this vaccine for our faculty, staff, and students as the State of Georgia allows us to. Our first vaccine clinic was on 02/01/21 and we were able to successfully vaccinate 54 of our community members. This is the first time in our Wesleyan history that we have been a part of this type of Public Health Initiative.
What have you learned from the COVID-19 experience?
I have learned that community is something that should not be taken for granted. People are meant to be together and without one another, our mental health suffers greatly. COVID-19 is a very isolating virus.