SBCC health services evolve to meet demands of virtual campus

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Heidi Hutton Rigoli, Staff Writer

City College Student Health Services provided everything from STI testing to diagnosing strep throat and sprained ankles before the pandemic.

Now nurses and counselors have had to innovate to give patient care online.

“It’s a challenge,” said Brenda Scherlis, nurse practitioner. “We’re definitely not nearly as busy as when we were on campus.”

According to Laura Fariss, director of Student Health and Wellness, there have been 378 medical appointments since the pandemic began last year, which is approximately 75% less than before the pandemic.

“The last time we were on campus I saw over 900 students,” said Mary Sila, a registered nurse who has worked at SBCC since 2002.

Scherlis saw more than 1,100 students at that time.

Although appointments have slowed, Scherlis and Sila are still busy caring for students online.

On top of appointments, they have “Ask a Nurse” forms to answer and Healthy Roster surveys to inspect. There are also tuberculosis assessments to review and medications to administer for illnesses such as strep throat or urinary tract infections.

But how does a nurse practitioner determine if someone has a respiratory infection or strep throat if they can’t meet in person? Scherlis and students have had to overcome a few obstacles.

“Some of the students get pretty creative and shine a light [on their throat] for me,” Scherlis said.

If they can’t make it work, Scherlis and Sila refer students to their doctor or a clinic.

Much of their time is spent going over the daily Healthy Roster.

It is used by many colleges to determine the COVID-19 status among the community and to try to quell the over 178,000 known COVID-19 cases reported on college campuses as of early October 2020.

This semester, 40 City College students have had positive COVID-19 results, according to Scherlis.

The Healthy Roster survey asks students if they’ve been exposed to anyone with COVID-19 in the past 10 days, what their temperature is and if they have symptoms.

If answers are positive, the student is contacted by Sila or Scherlis.

“We determine whether they need to isolate, whether they need to quarantine, whether they need to go for a COVID test,” Sila said. “It depends on what their particular circumstance is.”

After the initial contact, Scherlis and Sila continue to follow up with the student to educate them about the virus and what to do next.

“After our initial phone call,” Scherlis said, “we send them an email going over absolutely everything we’ve said to them and how to contact us.”

She said quarantine means the person should stay in their own bedroom, have their own bathroom and have roommates bring food to them.

“When there are nine living in the same house, people can only do the best they can,” Scherlis said.

Positive roster tests could be allergies or colds, but “we’re treating everything like it’s COVID,” she said.

In response to the pandemic and to organize the City College health-care system, there is a new student health portal where students can make an appointment, keep track of their health and records and upload test results. Students can also call (805) 730-4098 to make an appointment.

Scherlis and Sila said they look forward to seeing students in person again.

“Mary and I really want to go back to campus,” Scherlis said.


Other resources:

Information from the County of Santa Barbara website

A list of neighborhood clinics in Santa Barbara

Information from Cottage Health, a nonprofit hospital system

Planned Parenthood in Santa Barbara