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KSMU is dedicated to broadcasting critically important information as our community experiences the COVID-19 pandemic. Below, you'll find our ongoing coverage.

How A New Infection Prevention Manager Created a COVID Testing Unit From Scratch

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Courtesy of Freeman Health System
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In December of last year, Jessica Liberty got a new job.  She was named Infection Prevention Manager in at Freeman Health System in Joplin.  She had no idea just how critical her job would become in the following months when the coronavirus pandemic began.

“It felt really big and overwhelming and very scary, I think mostly just because I felt really uncomfortable in my shoes,” Liberty said.

But that didn’t stop her from building a drive-thru COVID testing clinic. In March, it took just three or four days to turn an under-utilized building at Freeman into a COVID call center.

“We started out testing two days a week. We did 40 tests a day, Tuesdays and Thursdays, and then we were open in the call center five days a week,” she said.

Throughout the pandemic, Liberty says testing grew. They started out doing 80 COVID tests a week. Now Freeman Health System is performing up to 500 tests a week, with drive-thru testing available five days a week.

She tells me about two types of COVID tests. There’s the oropharyngeal, or OP swab, a throat swab used for asymptomatic patients; and the nasopharyngeal, or NP, swab, the infamous nose swab used for symptomatic patients. While neither is pleasant, Liberty tells me the NP swab is more uncomfortable and it’s good to talk the patients through it.

“We put them on the schedule and we have that conversation piece with them over the phone. We say, ‘You are symptomatic. We’re going to perform and nasopharyngeal swab on you. This is what you can expect.’ And then once the swabber performs the swab, in my experience in the swabbing that I’ve done is if you just tell them take big, deep, cleansing breaths and then you continue to coach them while you’re swabbing, I feel like they just do so much better and you just talk very, very calm. ‘Yes, this is uncomfortable. I apologize. I’m going to keep twisting and I’ve counted to five. Now I’m going to pull out.’ I feel like just having that conversation at the very beginning and then coaching them through the swab, it doesn’t really, I mean obviously, it doesn’t take away the discomfort, but I think just having a little more hand-holding, since it is more traumatic, I think overall, patients do better,” Liberty said.

When giving the tests, Liberty’s staff wears full barrier PPE – that’s an N95 mask, face shield, gown and gloves. Coughing is very common after a swab, so this equipment helps protect the tester.

The staff’s full PPE was very hot to wear all day during the summer months, but even now that it’s cooler, Liberty says she only schedules staff for testing twice a week so they don’t get overwhelmed.

“I always tell my staff that they need to make sure that they do one thing, something fun, every night when they go home, or do something fun on the weekend. When I say fun, I don’t mean go out and see tons of people, but read a good book, spend some time out in the sunshine. Do something that is just strictly for you to help fill your tank. Because as a healthcare worker right now in the pandemic, it doesn’t really matter what area you work in, everybody’s feeling it.”

For Liberty, she makes sure she spends quality time with her family.

“Our mental health depends on it. If you don’t fill your cup, you have nothing left to give to anybody else.”

And when that cup is full, she says great things can happen.

“This is something that never even existed and now we’re a full-blown operation with 20 employees who have full-time hours now to support one cause. And that is to just test patients. It is very well used in the community. It’s something that we are very proud to be able to provide the Joplin community and to be able to meet the needs. I’m really proud of Freeman Health System. They’ve just done so well through this whole thing,” Liberty said.