Director of Health Services Marcy Kwitny, RN has been named a Magnus Health Frontline Hero. This award recognizes and celebrates those who have gone above and beyond for their schools during the pandemic. In her nomination by athletic trainer Rob Mikels he said, “Marcy has been working tirelessly to create and implement protocols and guidelines for all the different facets of our school. She is in constant contact with our Public health department and has been working hard to get our students back to school in a safe manner. She is selfless and always has the students’ best interest at heart.” Many of you are aware of Marcy’s extensive public health work since the advent of COVID-19. Read on to learn more about her efforts.
How has your role as director of health services changed since the onset of COVID-19? I’ve become more of a public health nurse versus a school nurse or a pediatric nurse. I’ve been laser-focused on health and safety for disease prevention and mitigation of risks. It’s a growing process, and I’m being educated daily as well as educating the public. It’s been very positive and I’ve been very grateful for these opportunities.
What have been some of the changes you’ve implemented on campus for community safety? We’ve been working with some of the most important programs such as face coverings and handwashing, including hand-washing stations and hand sanitizer. A lot of it has included education about social distancing, redesigning spaces on campus, disinfection and cleaning, and surveillance testing to make sure we catch asymptomatic employees and students. Our Magnus Health App that asks about exposure history and health screenings has also been crucial.
What have been some of your previous experiences as a nurse? When I first started out many years ago, it was during the HIV epidemic. I was working in a hospital, and I was definitely scared because people didn’t know how infectious patients might be. I learned quickly that I could be good at taking care of patients if I wore a mask, gloves, and my special gown and practiced good handwashing, but I think what was probably the most powerful thing was making sure I maintained the patients’ dignity. Many of them were alone and some family members shunned them, and they didn't have a lot of physical contact. I needed to make sure I smiled and felt comfortable with myself, and they felt comfortable with me. It was very powerful as a new nurse. I will never forget those patients; they will always be in my heart.
What have been some of the challenges of this time? There have been challenges and a lot of them have to do with the guidelines that change between city, county, state, and the CDC. Our health and safety plan has to be a living document as we stay up to date and educated with changes.
What has your communication been like with Pasadena and Los Angeles County health officials? Fantastic. I have to say we’re very blessed being a Pasadena school having its own health department. Dr. Goh is a class act, and I know I can always reach out to her. She has a great team, and they’ve been lovely. L.A. County with its weekly briefings has been wonderful. They have a great website, and I think Dr. Ferrer is a champion. We’ve been lucky to dip into both departments and get good messaging.
How will the vaccine affect the Poly community? The vaccine will not be the end-all solution. We will still have to practice all the great strategies we’ve learned—that will be part of our life. If any of us who get the vaccine is exposed to COVID-19, it will be a much less severe disease. People will get sick, but they won’t go to the hospital and can recover at home. It doesn’t mean that everyone who gets exposed will get it, and if they do it will be much less. We just don’t know yet if we can spread it. By wearing face coverings, we are protecting those around us as well.
There just aren’t enough vaccines yet for the demand, since 65 and older can now be vaccinated. They’re trying to hold back vaccines for people who need the second dose of the vaccine. In Pasadena, we have over 22,000 people over 65 and over 1.3 million in L.A. county. Half of the healthcare workers have been vaccinated so there is a large number of people still not vaccinated. We will see if under Biden there will be more vaccines.
How can the Poly community support your efforts to create a safe campus? I think people just need to comply with our protocols, respect our guidelines, and understand that as a community what each of us does can impact others. We are more than just a school, we’re like a neighborhood, like a family, and we’re dependent on each other to make sure that others act responsibly. Many of us aren’t used to thinking this way. We all need to continue to be hopeful and not get discouraged. It’s been a long haul, and we need to continue to stay strong and be the best partners we can be during a pandemic.
It has been an honor working with the COVID-19 steering committee. Their leadership, collaboration, and compassion have been amazing. And our faculty and staff have been the real heroes in all of this. As a school nurse during a pandemic, it’s been a huge commitment to make sure that no stone is left unturned. It’s also been one of my best years as a school nurse.