Working together to pay it forward for Iowans during COVID-19

With more than 50,000 visits since its opening in March, the UI Hospitals & Clinics Respiratory Illness Clinic serves as a care center for patients with COVID-19 or influenza symptoms. While its efficient workflows and expert staff may suggest years of planning, the speed and diligence put into the Respiratory Illness Clinic was unprecedented, much like the pandemic it was designed to combat.

“Whenever we have a new situation come up, an unknown, we work through it together,” says Katie Bulin, one of two assistant nurse managers for the Respiratory Illness Clinic. “That’s what I think makes us unique and makes it fun to come to work.”

Katie Bulin, RN

With proper safety guidelines, improved workflows, and expert staff from across UI Health Care, Bulin is confident that the Respiratory Illness Clinic can handle whatever the future may hold.

Rolling with the punches

In addition to juggling her normal responsibilities of managing urgent care facilities and occupational health, Katie Bulin spends her days ensuring the Respiratory Illness Clinic has the necessary staff and workflows in place to continue serving the community.

The clinic has around 100 rotating staff who provide video visits or phone calls to patients with symptoms of COVID-19 and those being home monitored with a COVID-19 infection. The team also has a rotating staff of about 10 providers for in-person clinic care for patients.

While the workplace environment is fast paced to say the least, Bulin welcomes it with open arms.

I think a challenge, but a welcome challenge, is how quickly things can change. When the Respiratory Illness Clinic first opened, it seemed like new protocols and policies were changing hour to hour.

— Katie Bulin, BSN, RN, MBA, CEN

Bulin and the rest of the Respiratory Illness Clinic are certainly accustomed to shifting work environment. After all, the clinic itself was the result of unprecedented change in response to COVID-19.

“On a Tuesday in early March, there was nothing,” says Bulin. “There was no schedule, no rooms, no staff, and no clinic. By Thursday morning, we were fully operational.”

One key mechanism Bulin emphasizes in the quick creation of the clinic is the institutional support it received from day one.

“It’s really a testament to UI Health Care that this clinic is such a priority,” says Bulin. “They make sure we have the resources necessary to provide excellent care to patients during what is a very scary time for many of them.”

Making a difference

When COVID-19 cases surge, improved workflows within the Respiratory Illness Clinic—which Bulin helped craft—ensure the clinic is ready to handle the influx of patients.

“We’re really proud of how we’re handling things,” says Bulin. “Between us and pathology, the Patient Access Center, and many others, being able to schedule a patient, get them swabbed, and get their results in the same day, it’s really impressive and a good service for our community.”

Difficult as the pandemic is and has been, Bulin says that the attitude and motivation found within the Respiratory Illness Clinic is key to its success.

“If I had to do it over again, and my boss said, ‘Will you come do this? We need this clinic to open,’ I definitely would,” says Bulin. “Even though the situation hasn’t been ideal, it’s been a really great experience. I wish we never had a pandemic, but since we do, I’m really proud to be making a difference.”