Washington State University students experiencing respiratory symptoms are being examined and treated in a new Respiratory Care Center operated by Cougar Health Services in Bustad Hall.

The center stems from the University’s need for specially designed spaces to examine people with potential COVID-19 symptoms. Because of the risk of airborne transmission of COVID, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends that providers see people with respiratory symptoms in rooms with enhanced ventilatory capabilities. CHS Executive Director Joel Schwartzkopf said the Washington Building, where CHS is located, was not designed for something as complex as COVID-19.

Although CHS has created two negative pressure rooms in the Washington Building, he said his team needs a much bigger space to properly take care of students experiencing respiratory symptoms, especially during this time of year. In a negative pressure room, the air pressure inside the room is lower than the air pressure outside the room. When the door is opened, potentially contaminated air from inside the room will not flow outside into non-contaminated areas.

CHS Nurse Manager Jenni Dalton said the new facility has 11 rooms: three for COVID testing, four for examinations, a lab for all point-of-care testing, and three workstations. Among CHS staff working at the location are two healthcare providers, at least four clinical staff, and one customer service representative.

“The goal is to examine all students experiencing any type of respiratory symptoms at Bustad,” Dalton said. “In addition to providing COVID testing there, we will also provide flu vaccines and some point-of-care testing for other conditions including strep, mono, and influenza.”

To be seen in the new facility, students must first consult with a CHS representative and be referred to the new center. The staff will not see drop-in visitors.

As part of the pre-screening process, CHS will continue to evaluate students by telehealth when possible to further protect them from exposure to the virus while visiting the Respiratory Care Center and to conserve personal protective equipment (PPE).

Leveraging our resources

The Respiratory Care Center is the result of many partnerships and a common desire to provide students with the best care possible. Schwartzkopf, Nina Woodford, campus veterinarian and manager of the space in which the center exists, and Dori Borjesson, professor and dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine, signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) that essentially loans the space free of charge to CHS until July 1, 2021. All parties have indicated a willingness to discuss extending the MOU if needed.

“I think this partnership is wonderful,” said Borjesson. “I love being part of the larger Cougar community where we can collaborate, leverage our resources, and break down silos.”

Woodford said the timing for the center could not have been better. The Vivarium in Bustad Hall, which is part of the College of Veterinary Medicine and provides laboratory and housing space for animal research and instructional programs, was already undergoing renovations to upgrade flooring, painting, heating and the ventilation system.

“The vivarium HVAC system has high ventilation rates, zero air recirculation, and can maintain negative air pressure, which are ideal parameters when dealing with respiratory pathogens,” Woodford said. “In addition, all the wall, floor, and cabinet surfaces are manufactured to be easily disinfected and we can accommodate one-way traffic flow, so students don’t have to pass each other when entering and exiting the center.”

Where possible, CHS is outfitting the center with equipment it already owns. It is purchasing a few essential items such as exam tables, computers, and vital signs spot monitors.

Housing and Dining Services is furnishing the center with desks, chairs, and several refrigerators from its storage warehouse on campus.

“It is nice to be able to help project leaders save some money on furniture because I don’t believe anyone had funding allocated for this purpose,” said Aaron Cunningham, interim director of Auxiliary Facility Services in Student Affairs.

Schwartzkopf said once the Respiratory Care Center becomes fully operational, the respiratory care tents erected in the parking lot of the Washington Building will no longer be needed. The tents were provided by the Washington State Department of Emergency Management.

“The level of collaboration that it took to accomplish this really speaks to the student-focused and community-minded culture of WSU,” said Schwartzkopf.  “This project is a wonderful example of Cougs helping Cougs.”