Alverno Alums, Students Answer Public Health Calls

When Milwaukee residents call the city’s coronavirus hotline to ask questions about the virus or obtain test results, there’s a good chance there’s an Alverno alum or student on the other end of the line.

Adria Bollendorf ’19 serves as supervisor for the Milwaukee Health Department’s COVID-19 hotline, while Tiffany Romero ’20 is a coordinator.

“My main responsibility is staffing the hotline. We mainly deal with calls from free testing sites in Milwaukee and provide results. We also answer any questions about COVID,” explains Bollendorf, who majored in health education.

During the pandemic’s peak, the hotline received approximately 500 calls per day. As cases have begun to increase again this fall, Bollendorf says the hotline is fielding more than 100 calls per day.

When manning the hotline, Romero says she relies on the social interaction she practiced at Alverno.

“In the health education major, we interview people and are out in the community doing surveys. That interaction really helped so you know how to approach people and how to talk to them,” she says.

That means not just providing callers with necessary information, but also helping them plan their next steps. And it means being a compassionate listening ear.

“Some of the calls we get on the hotline, people are scared and confused. Being that person on the other side of the line who is helping them out through the whole process, talking to them about the results, whether it’s positive or negative — to me it’s, satisfying,” Romero says. “It makes me feel good about helping somebody out as much as we can. It’s not just saying, ‘you’re positive’ or ‘you’re negative.’ It’s saying ‘you’re positive, and here’s what we can do.’”

In addition to playing a vital role in providing Milwaukeeans with the information and supplies needed to weather the pandemic, these Alverno Strong graduates are also sharing their knowledge with the next generation of health care leaders. This semester, Bollendorf and Romero trained some four dozen nursing students from Alverno, Marquette and the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee to staff the hotline and work on other projects, including mask and thermometer distribution.

“It’s really meaningful to be part of this. COVID affects every single person in the community, in the country and all around the globe,” says Alverno nursing student Loren Gossett (pictured above, far right), who expects to graduate in May 2021.

The experience has taught the students to find their voices. They’ve also learned when listening can be just as, if not more, valuable.

“Around the end of every phone call, we ask a series of questions and if they need anything. They bring up their concerns, and I take that as my time to listen. I give them resources that are available to them and let them know that we are there to help,” says MacKenzie McGrury, another expected May 2021 nursing graduate (pictured above, center).

The Alverno alums enjoy introducing the nursing students to another career path.

“I’ve been working to get projects they can work on to get a glimpse of what a public health nurse does,” says Romero, who began her education as a nursing major before switching to health education. “Not everybody knows about public health. I just want them to see that you don’t have to work in a hospital setting to help people out.”

The alums are proud to share more about their work with the students, and they regularly draw on their own Alverno education to create a meaningful learning experience.

“I really like sharing what I learned at Alverno with these students,” Bollendorf says. “I’m using what I learned at Alverno to teach them in a way that’s going to help them think for themselves and to think on their feet. Alverno taught us how to do that well.”

Starting their careers at a city health department in the midst of a global pandemic has required a lot of learning and adaptability. But Bollendorf and Romero say they wouldn’t have had it any other way.

“Knowing that the community really needs us and people need help is what motivates us. People are confused and concerned, and a lot of times, we are the first people who have talked to them about what they’re going through,” Bollendorf says. “We listen to their stories about having to be home from work and not being to pay their rent or find childcare. We educate them as much as we can that despite the difficulties, we all need to work to fight the spread of this disease.”

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