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What It’s Like on the Scene at a COVID-19 Collection Site in the Hudson Valley

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Sandra Iberger (left) is the Vice President of Ambulatory Services at Nuvance Health. Photo by Michael Polito

The woman in charge of Nuvance Health’s drive-through site at Dutchess Stadium in Wappingers Falls takes us behind the scenes during the coronavirus pandemic.

In late March, Nuvance Health in cooperation with Dutchess County opened a COVID-19 drive-through collection site at Dutchess Stadium in Wappingers Falls. The site has been used to collect samples from people experiencing symptoms of COVID-19. Those samples are then sent offsite for testing.

“We established these collection sites to provide a safe alternate location for symptomatic patients to be screened for COVID-19,” says Sandra Iberger, Vice President of Ambulatory Services at Nuvance Health, which also has an Ulster County site at Tech City in Kingston, as well as ones in Norwalk and Danbury, CT. “Currently, patients have been seeking testing via the Emergency Department and physician offices, which are not the appropriate setting for testing.”

In order to be seen at a collection site, patients must have fulfilled the following criteria:

  • You called your doctor’s office and had a consultation.
  • Based on your symptoms and other information you provided, your doctor determined you meet criteria for COVID-19 testing and ordered a test for you.

We spoke with Iberger in early April to learn more about how the collection sites are helping to combat COVID-19.

Photo by Michael Polito

What is the day like at the collection sites?

The staff are here from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. And we start seeing patients from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. This is a joint effort with the county so I can tell you that our partners in law enforcement are here 24/7 to guard the site. The management team is here from early as early as probably 7 a.m., if not earlier than that. We probably average 12-, 14-, 16-hour days.

The volume that we’ve gotten here is less than what we anticipated. So that is a good thing, since it’s not stressing the staff, and we’ve tried to get the same staff members so that we have continuity. 

Has there been anything in your past personally or professionally that prepared you for what you’re seeing today, as far as the pandemic?

So I’m a unique animal, which is why I was tasked to do this. I am retired from the Air Force. I have over 20 years of experience as a Medical Readiness officer. I’m new with the system — have been here since August 5 — but I’ve had over 30 years of healthcare experience. I’ve been doing Emergency Management forever. I did it in every hospital that I worked at, because whenever they heard that [I had military experience], they put me in disaster preparedness as a part of my role, even if it had nothing to do with the work that I was doing.

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Your generosity and community support keeps pouring in day after day as our Nuvance Health staff continue to do life-saving work. We want to say thank you and share this important message:⁣ ⁣ Together, we will get through this.⁣ ⁣ Let’s make that our promise to one another.⁣ ⁣ We are #NuvanceHealthStrong⁣ ⁣ While we may have to stay six feet apart, we have banded together in spirit more than ever before. Let’s continue to show each other strength, positivity and kindness. We need each other more than ever.⁣ ⁣ Let us know what makes you #NuvanceHealthStrong and we promise to keep sharing what makes our communities so special.⁣ ⁣ #danburystrong #newmilfordstrong #northerndutchessstrong #norwalkstrong #putnamstrong #sharonstrong #vassarstrong

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And what do you use from your military background to bolster the troops, so to speak?

Just my leadership style.  I’m pretty much a hands-on leader. If there’s somebody new, I look at them, and I’ll tell them, ‘What’s the number one thing? Safety. Safety of our employees first. Safety of our patients next, right? If you’re not comfortable working here, raise your hand.’ There’s no shame in saying that. We will rotate you out with someone else if you were drafted and you don’t feel that you’re comfortable in doing this. Because if you don’t manage the process well, and if you’re if you’re nervous or not comfortable in your PPE, you could make mistakes and compromise the collection team.

What do you want to let people know about your site?

Initially we weren’t promoting that we could take people without appointments, but we’ve actually opened up our centers to accept people without appointments as well. The only thing that I would say is that those individuals need to have a valid physician order. A valid physician order, nurse practitioner, or licensed independent practitioner is required for us to do any testing.

So if they are symptomatic, and they need to be tested, they should reach out to their primary care provider to be screened. If people don’t have a primary care provider or if they don’t have someone that can do that screening for them, Nuvance Health is able to do telemedicine visits. All that information is on our website. If someone doesn’t have the ability to pay, we are not worried about that. We still test.

The reason that we’ve limited it to symptomatic patients is because there’s a limit on the amount of inventory we have for universal transport media, which is the test tube with the media in it that would allow us to take the specimen and have that tested. If we don’t have that product, it doesn’t matter how many tents or locations that we set up. We won’t be able to test the patients that come here because we won’t have the appropriate supplies in order to do it.

And last, but certainly not least, thank you for everything you are doing.

You’re welcome. You know, we’re honored, honestly, to work here. This is really meaningful work. We’re blessed to have jobs. And we’re blessed to help people in the most difficult times of their lives. So that doesn’t get lost on the staff here.

We’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback across the system. And even here, people are lifting the patients, who are coming through, [saying] ‘You’ll be okay. Don’t worry.’ And that has meant a tremendous amount to our community and to everyone that’s coming through the lines. We want the best for our community and for our patients, and we’ll be doing our best to make sure to provide that for them.

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