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May 1, 2020
SVSU searches for clues to COVID-19's prevalence in region by examining wastewater
Saginaw Valley State University researchers have been at the forefront of protecting public health at local beaches for several years. As the novel coronavirus pandemic creates a new threat to public health, Tami Sivy and her determined students are on the front lines of groundbreaking research to provide early detection. They are dedicated to protecting communities in the Great Lakes Bay Region by implementing innovative, potentially life-saving research methods.
Sivy, SVSU professor of chemistry, and her research students are driven to serve the community and discover new ways to defend against this deadly virus. They are rapidly adapting their current freshwater contamination testing methods to test for SARS-CoV-2 in wastewater in order to identify virus hot spots before they can be detected by other testing methods. This innovative approach to early detection is critical, as it can detect viral material that came from people with and without symptoms.
“It’s known that the virus is excreted in human waste, so we are collecting human wastewater samples from various wastewater treatment plants in the Saginaw Bay Watershed,” said Sivy.
“It’s a great way to test for the spread of the virus. If we can detect it in wastewater — even if there’s not many people testing positive in a region — we can better see what the levels are, and we can potentially detect hot spots and spread before it’s even being detected by symptoms in humans.”
While the samples SVSU receives should pose no risk, Sivy is taking extra precautions to keep her students and the SVSU community safe. In addition to extensive protective gear, they are also using specialized safety equipment and safeguarded testing processes.
“We’ll only be working with the wastewater sample in a special biosafety hood,” Sivy said.
“When we extract the RNA genetic material, there’s no chance of infection because the genomic material can’t affect us in any way. When the virus travels through the digestive tract, it is inactivated, thus this work poses extremely low risk for infection as wastewater does not contain live virus, but still retains viral genetic material.”
This new method of testing has already proven to be successful in other areas of the country. Researchers in Somerset, Massachusetts were able to use these methods to identify a COVID-19 hot spot in a local metropolitan area much sooner than with traditional testing. This gave them a better picture of how many individuals were infected in the area, which was far greater than the number who had previously reported testing positive. While 400 cases were reported in the region through human testing, wastewater testing determined that several thousand individuals were actually infected.
Detecting early signs of spread is crucial to containing the virus and reducing the severity of a second wave, especially as cities and communities begin to open up again. This research allows health officials to respond much quicker to better protect public health.
For the past several years, SVSU’s Saginaw Bay Environmental Science Institute has partnered with Michigan State University, EGLE, and USEPA to conduct microbial testing in order to determine sources of fecal contamination at local beaches. When the SARS-CoV-2 virus began to spread, Sivy and her students were quick to take action and adapt their current research methods to aid in relief efforts and continue serving their community.
This adaptation has included modifying which genetic markers they are extracting and identifying from their samples.
“We are using markers that are specific to the coronavirus,” Sivy said.
“Additionally, because we’re extracting genomic RNA rather than the DNA that we extract from our freshwater samples, we have to add in an additional step called reverse transcription. The RNA is converted to DNA so we can amplify it and quantify it to determine the levels of the viral RNA.”
In order to do this, Sivy and her students have been utilizing state-of-the-art techniques and technology, including digital drop PCR instruments.
“Only two of them in the state are being used to do this genetic material detection and quantification. We’re developing some pretty amazing cutting-edge techniques to do that,” Sivy said. “There’s no other university in our region that’s able to do this kind of work and so we’re excited to be a part of it.”
This is a rare opportunity, as not many universities and organizations are prepared to conduct this type of research. SVSU has remained ahead of the curve with these complex methods and was approached to contribute its expertise to help stop the spread of COVID-19.
“We were chosen partly because of how far along we were in the understanding and application of the rapid DNA testing and the source tracking methods for public beaches,” Sivy said. “We started them before most other universities and health departments did.”
This innovative approach to detecting and analyzing the virus has developed new ways to protect our communities, as well as provided a unique opportunity for SVSU’s undergraduate research students to gain vital hands-on experience.
“Not many undergraduates have the opportunity at universities to work on projects such as these,” Sivy said. “This is really cutting-edge stuff and it’s developing day by day. So I’ve been so excited for them to be able to learn these methods and apply them. I think it’s helped with their development as critical thinkers and has given them practical experience that can be used in other applications also.”
This constant pursuit of discovery and commitment to adapt is the forward thinking that continues to push SVSU and research methods forward. If a community in the Saginaw Bay Watershed contracts the virus in significant numbers, SVSU’s research may prove to be an early warning system that allows public health departments to respond quickly and save lives.
“It’s really important for our region. I am very happy to support and lead some of these efforts, as well as have my students involved and go out as ambassadors of SVSU,” Sivy said. “It’s been a lot of work, but we’ve had a lot of help from our partners. We’re really excited to be a part of it.”
April 29, 2020
SVSU alumni help Duro-Last supply protective equipment for health care workers in COVID-19 fight
When he was a boy growing up on his family’s 40-acre Hemlock farm, Mitch Gilbert worked often with his hands, honing his industrious nature to build and fix equipment meant to cultivate corn and bale hay. As an undergraduate at Saginaw Valley State University, he sharpened his problem-solving and project-approaching skills considerably while studying mechanical engineering.
Now he is applying those life lessons to join the efforts of his colleagues – including other SVSU alumni – at Duro-Last, Inc. as the company has dedicated substantial resources to helping protect health care workers serving on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“As an engineer, you have to ask yourself, what can you do to help the world in the times we’re living in,” Gilbert said. “We’re answering that question. Now we’re doing everything we can do.”
Gilbert serves as Duro-Last’s director of continuous improvement and research and development. It’s a department featuring nine staff members. Six of them are SVSU alumni, having completed degrees in mechanical engineering, engineering technology management, and chemistry.
Gilbert has played a key role in his company’s effort to counter a shortage of equipment needed to protect doctors, nurses and first responders in danger of catching the virus from patients.
Duro-Last typically manufactures roofing products. But since the state reported its first confirmed cases of COVID-19 in March, the company has refocused its resources, so far manufacturing more than 40,000 protective gowns and 15,000 masks for some of the hardest-hit health care facilities in Michigan. And the products continue churning out of the manufacturing plant at a rate of 15,000 gowns and over 3,000 masks per week.
During its first few weeks of production, that personal protection equipment was shipped exclusively to Beaumont Health in metro Detroit, which for weeks has suffered as one of the world’s deadliest virus hotspots. When other companies started supplying Beaumont Health earlier this month, Duro-Last began shipping its gowns and masks to other health care facilities in need across the region and state.
Gilbert was involved in the company’s earliest strategy sessions relating to the virus response.
“We started with a broad list of items we could provide, and then narrowed it down to items we could manufacture with material we already were buying for roofing systems,” Gilbert said.
Eventually, the company identified gowns and masks as the two products it could most quickly and efficiently produce.
One of the key ingredients in Duro-Last-produced roofing membranes is PVC film, otherwise known as polyvinyl chloride. When the PVC film is cut especially thin, it can be used to create gowns for hospital use. When combined with polyester fleece, the PVC film also can be utilized in the manufacturing of protective masks.
Gilbert designed engineering drawings for the gowns and masks with the help of consultants at Beaumont Health.
“I probably drew 13 versions of the gown for Beaumont,” Gilbert said. “We had someone drive down there with the prototype, then we would receive feedback from their people. It was a great collaboration.”
Once the final design was approved, Duro-Last worked to reconfigure tools typically used for creating roofing products. That re-tooling effort was supported by another SVSU alumnus, Austin Schroeder, a mechanical engineer with Duro-Last.
Schroeder’s challenge was to readjust machines so that tools built to create products for roofing – which typically deals with angles measuring either 45 degrees or 90 degrees – instead could manufacture products that fit snuggly on the complex curvatures of the human face and body.
“This whole project started as a problem we needed to solve – and needed to solve quickly,” said Schroeder, a Bay City native. “The problem-solving I learned at SVSU really helped me.”
Both alumni of SVSU’s mechanical engineering program – Gilbert and Schroeder graduated in 2007 and 2018, respectively – credit their experience at the university in part for helping them tackle the challenge. They say SVSU faculty members equipped them with the knowledge and initiative to solve problems requiring an outside-the-box approach.
Among the educators they shared despite attending SVSU during different decades was Brooks Byam, professor of mechanical engineering.
“One of the most important things I learned about these types of projects, I learned from Brooks,” Gilbert said. “He would tell us, ‘When you’re working on a project with uncertainties, and you’re feeling stuck, take action. Turn a knob. Do something. It will lead to a solution.’”
Byam said he was proud of Gilbert, Schroeder and their fellow SVSU alumni at Duro-Last.
“It is very gratifying to hear a story like this,” Byam said.
“Mitch serves SVSU’s mechanical engineering program in many ways from advisory committees, capstone projects, giving seminars to students and hiring our graduates. It is truly gratifying to see Mitch and mechanical engineering graduates he hired make such a direct, demonstrable impact on society.”
April 24, 2020
As Covenant HealthCare ER doctor, SVSU alumna protects front lines in region's COVID-19 fight
Through the filter of protective goggles and face shields, Dr. Angela Gregory has witnessed both heartbreaking tragedy and triumphs of human compassion since the COVID-19 pandemic reached the Covenant HealthCare Emergency Care Center facility in Saginaw where she works.
“I’ve never seen anything like this, and I don’t know anybody who has,” the Saginaw Valley State University alumna said.
“Not even close.”
Since the Bay City native was hired at the emergency room in 2012, she has been fighting to save lives. That much hasn’t changed since the global pandemic reached the region in March. What has changed: Now she risks catching a highly-contagious virus that has overrun medical facilities in COVID-19 hotspots as nearby as Detroit.
While Covenant HealthCare has not experienced the same frightening number of patients seeking treatment at hospitals in Michigan’s largest city, a surge in infections regionally remains a possibility as the world struggles to tame the pandemic.
Still, Gregory’s desire to help others keeps her motivated to join her Covenant HealthCare colleagues – including the 40 doctors working alongside her in the emergency room – as they serve as the region's front line protectors.
“I couldn’t see myself doing anything else now,” she said.
Gregory’s ambitions as a doctor date back to her teenage years at Bay City Western High School, where a chemistry teacher first stoked her interest in the science of medicine. After a tour of SVSU, Gregory – known by her maiden name of Angela Gracey back then – enrolled at the university in 2000, benefiting from its robust pre-health professions program. She earned a bachelor’s degree in biology from SVSU in 2005 before graduating from the Michigan State University College of Human Medicine in 2009.
After serving in residency programs at both St. Mary’s of Michigan in Saginaw (now known as Ascension St. Mary's) as well as Covenant HealthCare, she joined the latter facility’s staff as a doctor eight years ago.
Prior to the emergence of COVID-19 in the region, her work consisted of caring for patients seeking medical care there for reasons ranging from injuries sustained in car crashes to heart attacks. Along with applying medicine, her duties include consulting with patients’ family members and collaborating with social work services that assist those treated at the facility.
Many elements of her job, though, changed when COVID-19 arrived.
Gregory first became aware of the virus in early winter when news reports documented deadly outbreaks in China. She watched with concern as media covered its gradual spread across Asia and, later, Europe. By the time she attended a friend’s wedding in Jamaica in February, the virus arrived in coastal cities in the United States, leading to early measures to stop the spread across the Western Hemisphere.
“I remember there was a lot of hand sanitizer at the resort,” she said. “I started thinking, ‘Is it going to be safe for us to go home on a plane?’”
Gregory and her husband returned safely to their Bay City home March 2.
“Within a week, the virus exploded,” she said. “I knew we would be seeing it here soon.”
Gregory and the Covenant HealthCare staff began consulting with health experts across the world as they readied for a virus unknown to medical professionals only months earlier.
The lack of testing kits able to detect the virus, the absence of known remedies, and the highly-contagious nature of COVID-19 made combating the virus especially challenging by the time the first confirmed case was reported in Michigan on March 10. Adding to the challenge early on was a nation-wide lack of personal protective equipment meant to prevent medical professionals from catching the virus while treating patients.
The first two confirmed cases of COVID-19 were reported in Saginaw County on March 21. Around that same time, the first patients suspected of carrying COVID-19 arrived at Covenant HealthCare, Gregory recalled.
“There were only a handful of people who came into the emergency room, and at that point, they weren’t excessively sick,” she said. “We’d run the test to see if they had the virus, and then tell them to go home and self-quarantine.”
As the days and weeks progressed, the volume of patients impacted by the pandemic increased, including people experiencing the most severe symptoms of the respiratory system-attacking virus, she said. Gregory and her colleagues began intubating the sickest of the arrivals, placing patients on ventilators after their breathing reached dangerously-low levels. Some patients died, including an elderly patient with underlying health issues who Gregory treated.
Those patients testing positive for the virus are isolated in rooms to prevent the spread of the disease, only allowed to talk to family members using phones and other communication technology. Gregory and her colleagues tend to the infected while covered head-to-toe in protective equipment. When working with a person carrying the COVID-19 virus, Gregory wears a face shield, goggles, an n95 mask, gown, and gloves.
“The equipment makes it harder to work, but it’s necessary,” she said.
While the number fluctuates from hour to hour, about 50 COVID-19 patients at any given moment are being treated in recent days at Covenant HealthCare. The number is significant when considering those patients are hospitalized for the same purpose, but so far, the medical staff is not as overwhelmed as its peers in hospitals near hotspots such as Detroit, Gregory said.
The threat of an escalation in Great Lakes Bay Region-based cases weighs heavily on the mind of Gregory and many of her colleagues.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in March signed an executive order suspending operations for “non-essential” businesses while asking resident to stay home. It’s an effort to slow the spread of the virus by reducing contact between the infected and healthy populations. When the executive order is lifted, health care experts worry new COVID-19 hotspots may spring to life, straining the resources of health care facilities in those regions.
Gregory said staying home to stay safe is essential right now.
“In 50 years, we may be asking if the executive order was necessary,” Gregory said. “Does that mean it wasn’t necessary, or does that mean it was successful? For the health of the population, we need to make sure certain measures are in place before telling people they can leave their homes again.”
Among those measures include increased testing capabilities that would allow health officials to identify and isolate people carrying the virus before they spread it to others. Since Gregory began handling COVID-19 cases, access to testing kits has improved, she said.
“We still have to be careful of who we test because we have limited tests, but we are better off than we were,” she said.
While the last few weeks have proven some of the most challenging in Gregory’s professional life, the experience also has offered her moments of inspiration.
“Our community has been amazing to Covenant,” she said. “There has been so much food donated from people and from businesses. I’ve been joking that I’m going to gain ‘The Quarantine 15’ from all the food donated to the hospital.”
Access to personal protective equipment also has improved because of community donations as well as contributions from businesses.
Gregory also is encouraged by the support of her family. When she isn't working in the ER, she self-isolates at home with her husband and son.
“We’ve been putting together a lot of puzzles, playing games, watching ‘Ozark’ on Netflix, and trying to go outside when we can,” she said.
Occasionally, Gregory’s parents will visit their Bay City home. But they never step beyond the boundaries of the house’s front doorway, keeping a safe distance to minimize the chance of spreading COVID-19. On Saturday, April 25, family and friends will participate in a Super Mario Bros-themed “birthday parade” for Gregory’s son – he turned six earlier this week – with plans to honk the horns of their vehicles as they drive by the household.
“His party was going to be at Valley Lanes, but we had to cancel,” Gregory said. “It was disappointing, but safety is the most important thing right now.”
She urged others to do their best to support friends, neighbors and community members.
“My take-home message is this: Try to have compassion for others,” she said. “Everybody’s adjusting to this and doing their best to cope. I know I am.”
April 23, 2020
SVSU students to raise Relay For Life funds via Facebook event
Saginaw Valley State University students are determined to not allow one health crisis to disrupt their fight to end another health crisis.
With health experts recommending crowds not gather during the COVID-19 pandemic, SVSU student organizers will turn to Facebook as a venue for its annual Relay For Life event, which raises funds supporting American Cancer Society causes. The social media-based session is scheduled Friday, April 24, from 2 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.
Elizabeth Simon, an English literature major from Bay City, serves as co-chair of the student-run event organized by the SVSU chapter of Colleges Against Cancer. The gathering originally was scheduled to commence in the university's Ryder Center, which served as the site of the event for years. Then COVID-19 forced organizers to change their plans.
"We all know that SVSU students have the spirit and determination to accomplish anything,” she said. “We want to keep the spirit of Relay alive, and by making the event virtual, we can do that.”
On Friday, videos will be posted on a Facebook page
. Student and staff leaders from SVSU will appear in recorded messages. A message from a cancer survivor and a musical performance from the band Lochaven
also will be shared via video there.
Annabelle Midcalf, the event's other co-chair, said she was happy Colleges Against Cancer acted quickly to prevent SVSU's Relay For Life from being canceled.
“We believe this event will allow people to release some anxiety and stress relating to COVID-19, and will help us realize that we together – as a community – can still do good in this world, even when sometimes we feel we aren’t doing enough,” said Midcalf, a biology major from Saginaw.
April 22, 2020
Retiring leader leaves SVSU program in strong position to support regional businesses challenged by pandemic
As its leadership changes hands, a Saginaw Valley State University entrepreneurship-supporting program will continue its momentum at a time when the business community needs it most, officials say.
David Bell later this month will retire as SVSU’s associate director of entrepreneurship and experiential learning, a role that put him in charge of the university’s Dow Entrepreneurship Institute since February 2018. Izabela Szymanska, an SVSU associate professor of management, will serve as Bell’s interim replacement.
Funded by the Herbert H. and Grace A. Dow Foundation, SVSU’s Dow Entrepreneurship Institute stimulates the creation of new business ventures, serves as a resource for research activities aimed at business innovation, and provides internship opportunities with area businesses for students.
Students and faculty will work with the Dow Entrepreneurship Institute to provide operational, marketing, financial and strategic analyses for regional businesses facing challenges after the COVID-19 virus led many companies to temporarily close, said Anthony Bowrin, dean of SVSU’s Scott L. Carmona College of Business. The institute also will work with businesses to better understand how the virus impacted technology and consumer-buying behaviors such as an increased demand in product delivery services via online apps.
Bowrin said much of the work will be accomplished by pairing the Dow Entrepreneurship Institute with the offices of other business-focused programs housed in SVSU’s business college. Those programs include the Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center–Northeast office; the Small Business Development Center regional office; and the Stevens Center for Family Business.
Because of the momentum Bell helped build at SVSU’s Dow Entrepreneurship Institute, the program is in a strong position to provide that support, Bowrin said.
“I appreciate David Bell’s contribution to the advancement of the mission of the Dow Entrepreneurship Institute over the past two years as he supported the entrepreneurial endeavors of students, faculty and the wider community,” Bowrin said.
Bell previously served as Dow Chemical Co.'s associate commercial director from 2003-15.
Bowrin expressed excitement in the talent presented by Szymanska, who worked with Bell in strengthening the Dow Entrepreneurship Institute in recent years.
“Dr. Szymanska is the lead faculty member for entrepreneurship programs in the Scott L. Carmona College of Business,” Bowrin said.
“She has worked closely with David Bell to provide innovative entrepreneurship experiences for students including mentoring several students. I am confident that Dr. Szymanska will consolidate the great gains made by the Dow Entrepreneurship Institute under David’s leadership.”
Those gains included the promotion of entrepreneurial initiatives among students and faculty, mentoring students developing projects related to entrepreneurship, and developing outreach programs that advance initiatives that benefit local high school students as well as members of the regional community.
The institute offers workshops, contests and external speaker events that give students an inside view of business ownership and management. Through the institute’s community connections, students earn the opportunity to work directly with local business leaders while learning from established entrepreneurs.
The institute works closely with educators who teach entrepreneurship classes at SVSU, providing support while supplementing students’ coursework by bringing real-world business experience into the classroom.
April 16, 2020
SVSU, Saginaw Art Museum launch webpage collecting writing, artwork chronicling life during pandemic
Saginaw Valley State University has teamed with the Saginaw Art Museum to capture history as it’s happening, taken from the perspectives of those experiencing it: specifically, Great Lakes Bay Region residents.
Launched this week, “The Quarantine Chronicles”
webpage acts as an online repository for stories and artwork that reflect the experience of local life during the COVID-19 pandemic. Already, a small collection of content is available, but organizers hope the volume grows as community members submit more work.
“We want to provide a place for people to connect to one another, to be able to share their experiences,” said Helen Raica-Klotz, co-director of SVSU’s Center For Community Writing. “We know that art and writing are powerful mediums for self-expression and personal connection.”
Eventually, Raica-Klotz said, she hopes the webpage will feature a long list of creative fiction and poetry, photographs, sketches, musings, artwork-in-process, video clips, interviews and journal entries, to name a few.
Thor Rasmussen, marketing and creativity director at the Saginaw Art Museum, said he was excited to partner with SVSU on the project.
“We are optimistic that ‘The Quarantine Chronicles’ will be a place that connects people and our shared experience during this unusual time,” Rasmussen said. “Interestingly, even now – during this crisis – we see people use creative thinking to solve problems and art as a means of expressing themselves.”
The museum hosts items spanning thousands of years, he said:
“Each piece gives a glimpse into history. In some ways, our compilation of ‘The Quarantine Chronicles’ is a way for art to tell the story of our current time. As the museum continues its mission of providing art for all, we hope this project is a vehicle for members of our region to recognize art is a part of their daily lives.”
April 15, 2020
Defying a global pandemic, SVSU will move production of 'Macbeth' online for the world to watch from home
In Melanie Frasca’s mind, she imagined one final farewell on stage at Saginaw Valley State University; a climactic curtsy as the curtain closed in front of her, signaling a poignant end to her beloved experience as a student actor there that began in 2016. But when a pandemic led to the closure of public events worldwide – including her planned portrayal of one of Shakespeare’s most iconic characters – it seemed Frasca and her fellow graduating seniors would lose their chance at a proper sendoff.
Like any redemptive turn that arrives in the climax of a feel-good drama, though, Frasca and her classmates will get their chance to bid adieu in style – and safety – after all.
Using the trendy teleconference app known as Zoom, SVSU’s Department of Theatre will produce a live online performance of “Macbeth” Thursday, April 16, at 7:30 p.m., allowing audiences far and wide to watch for free (instructions on how to watch are available below).
“This is a way to get closure and to heal a little bit of sadness that is coming from losing those last moments of my senior year,” Frasca said. “It means so much to me that I will still be able to perform in my final show at SVSU.”
The change in venue may actually work more in favor of the theatre major, whose performance as Lady Macbeth will no longer be limited to those able to attend the production on campus.
“My family lives far away and may not have been able to make it to the show when it was at the theatre,” the Waterford native said. “They will be able to see me perform now.”
Four stage performances of “Macbeth” originally were scheduled this week before the COVID-19 pandemic led the state – and much of the world – to cancel public events throughout the spring. While there are plans to reschedule the stage version in the fall at SVSU’s Malcolm Field Theatre for Performing Arts, director Tommy Wedge was inspired to organize the online adaptation after seeing the Midland Center for the Arts and Sciences produce its own version of a classic Shakespeare play on Zoom last month. Audiences responded well to the “King Lear” production – part of a series known as “Shakespeare & Chill LIVE”
– and Wedge decided to take a page from his peers’ playbook, applying it to “Macbeth.”
“It’s a way to come together in this strange time, to reconnect to each other,” said Wedge, an assistant professor of theatre at SVSU. “We’re looking at it as a way to share the work we’ve been doing while celebrating our graduating seniors.”
The cast and crew began rehearsal in the weeks before the cancelation of the stage performances. While the students returning next academic year are expected to maintain their roles in the fall, two actors – including Frasca – as well as two crew members involved in music composition and sound design will not be involved in the stage production because they are expected to graduate in May.
Wedge said the Zoom-based version of “Macbeth” will be a fun, entertaining experience that will showcase students’ talents and creativity. Each cast member will perform their role from the safety of their respective residences, using computers and smart devices to record their work. Audiences attending from home can watch live as their computer screen features rotating windows, each capturing a different student's portrayal of a character from the Shakespeare tragedy.
“Whatever props or costume pieces the actors have at home are fair game,” Wedge said. “It’s not perfection, by any means. We’re making do like the rest of the world around us.”
The production will involve a high level of coordination from crew members to highlight the cast of 21 students set to appear. Wedge, though, is experienced in leading plays involving high levels of coordination. His last directing job was the much-celebrated fall 2019 local production of “Mamma Mia!” The Great Lakes Bay Regional Alliance-produced show featured an unprecedented collaboration between three area theatre companies: Midland Center for the Arts and Sciences, Bay City Players and Saginaw-based Pit & Balcony Theatre.
Wedge said he is excited to bring the Shakespeare classic – about a man consumed with murderous ambition to fulfill a witch’s prophesy – to an online audience craving an entertaining distraction.
“Hopefully, it’s an opportunity to let off a little steam and take a break; to just relax with a little Shakespeare,” he said.
The lead for “Macbeth” – typically a role played by a male -- will be portrayed by a female performer, Megan Meyer, a fine arts major from Owosso. Meyer expects to return for the stage version in the fall. For others such as Frasca, though, Thursday will provide a final farewell as student performers at SVSU.
“While nothing can replace performing on stage at the Malcolm Field theatre one last time with my theatre family, this is such an amazing way to still get to showcase all our work,” Frasca said. “Lady Macbeth is a dream role of mine, and I am blessed that I can bring her to life.”
To watch SVSU’s production of “Macbeth” online, audiences should follow these steps:
- Minutes before the show begins Thursday, April 16, at 7:30 p.m., another web link – this time, connecting to the performance produced using the app known as Zoom – will appear within the Facebook Events page. The link will not be available until the Zoom meeting is created shortly before the show begins.
- The performances likely will begin closer to 7:40 p.m. At 7:30 p.m., director Tommy Wedge plans to kick off the event by providing an introductory presentation, giving late-comers time to arrive before the show starts. Audiences can watch the show live or view a recording of the performance later.
April 9, 2020
On front lines of COVID-19 battle in Saginaw, SVSU alumna serves community despite dangers
Smriti Pant never imagined showing up to work under protective layers of a hazmat suit and high-grade respirator mask. Years ago, she was inspired to care for others and use her personable nature to help people most in need of both, and now the Saginaw Valley State University educator and alumna is on the front lines of fighting a global pandemic.
“It’s not something you expect you’ll be doing one day,” said Pant, a family nurse practitioner who was among the first health care professionals in the region to test patients suspected of carrying the COVID-19 virus.
A member of the staff at Great Lakes Bay Health Centers, Pant and her colleagues since March 24 have collected nasal swab samples from more than 230 people at a drive-through sampling site built in the parking lot of the Great Lakes Bay Health Centers downtown Saginaw headquarters at 501 Lapeer. There, for six hours each day, Mondays through Fridays, they interact directly with people fearful they carry a virus that already has killed more than 82,000 people – and counting – across the globe.
It is both an emotionally- and physically-taxing job for Pant. Her commitment to providing a comforting, human touch to each interaction is made more challenging because of strict safety measures and layers of equipment meant to prevent her from becoming infected during her job.
For the danger she faces while helping others, some might call her a “hero.” She doesn’t share that sentiment.
“I’m just fulfilling my role as a primary care provider, helping people the best way possible,” the 33-year-old said.
“I’m a little part in this bigger puzzle of people who are working to fight COVID-19. Not just the health care workers; I’m talking about the first responders, the grocery store workers, the gas station attendants, and all personnel willing to sacrifice their time, talent and resources to keep communities safe.”
Helping those in need is an instinct Pant followed since she pursued an education in nursing at SVSU.
It’s an instinct reinforced later when she was returned to health by the same organization she works for today.
Raised in her native Kathmandu, Nepal, Pant and her family relocated to the United States 14 years ago. In 2006, at the age of 19, Pant moved to Saginaw to pursue a career in medicine by enrolling in SVSU’s nursing program. Her desire to practice nursing, though, became more focused more than two years later when she fell severely ill.
“I did not have health insurance and I did not want to go to the ER because I knew it could be costly,” Pant said, “and I could not afford to drop out of school.”
Desperate for help, Pant during a Google search discovered the organization known today as Great Lakes Bay Health Centers. Originally called Health Delivery Inc., the organization began as a Saginaw-based mobile migrant health clinic in 1968. Since then, the federally-qualified health center has expanded to 30 clinics across 16 Michigan counties. Serving more than 54,000 patients, Great Lakes Health Centers provides medical, dental, behavioral, maternal and infant care services to patients including those considered underserved, underinsured or uninsured.
“They really took care of me,” she said of how the organized helped her recover from illness in 2009.
“I was thoroughly amazed at how I could access the majority of the healthcare services offered in private practices and ERs, but at a much more affordable cost. They had X-rays, labs, a pharmacy, WIC services and more, all in the same building.”
The health center offers service costs on a sliding scale based on a patient’s income or household size.
“I was fascinated by that system,” she said, “and I thought to myself, ‘When I graduate, I want to work here.’”
Before she fulfilled that desire, Pant continued her extensive education at SVSU, which provided her both with practical skills in medicine and a strong sense of commitment to bettering the community.
“This moment of service and serving the community at large would not have been possible without SVSU,” said Pant, who works as an adjunct faculty member in nursing at the university when she isn’t working at Great Lakes Bay Health Centers.
“All the opportunities and support the university, staff, faculty members provided me over the years have truly enabled me to be in a position to do the work I do every day.”
From SVSU, Pant earned her bachelor’s degree in nursing in May 2011, her master’s degree in nursing in August 2015, and her Doctor of Nursing Practice degree with a post-master’s certificate in nursing education in December 2016.
After earning her first degree, Pant served as a registered nurse at Covenant HealthCare in Saginaw from 2011-16. Only months before receiving her most recent credentials at SVSU, she was hired as a board-certified family nurse practitioner at Great Lakes Bay Health Centers in August 2016.
Prior to the emergence of COVID-19 in Michigan, her work involved serving as a primary care provider at many of Great Lakes Bay Health Centers’ clinics across the state. She cared for patients ranging from infants to the elderly. Often, a college student would walk into her office and remind Pant of her origins at the organization.
“When I see them, and I listen to the stories and challenges they face, it reminds me often of the struggles I faced when I was in their position,” she said.
COVID-19, though, was unlike anything Pant or her patients ever faced before.
While Pant read about the global wrath of the coronavirus earlier in the year, she was first confronted with her potential role in fighting the pandemic during a March 12 meeting at Great Lakes Bay Health Centers. An infectious disease expert provided the staff with an educational session on the COVID-19 virus, which at that point already devastated thousands of lives across Asia and Europe. With a strong foothold on both American coasts, it became apparent the virus soon would grip the Midwest. The first two cases were confirmed in Michigan only two days earlier.
By March 19, the Saginaw County Health Department informed regional health care providers of the urgent need for sample testing, a measure seen as critical for stopping the spread of infection. Five days later, Great Lakes Bay Health Centers became the first organization to answer the call when it opened the drive-through sampling site in Saginaw. The organization stepped up in other ways too. For instance, it remains the only health care provider in the region offering emergency dental procedures.
The drive-through concept was the design of the organization’s COVID-19 task force led by Paula Peters, who now serves as the sampling site’s manager; and it was supported by Dr. Brenda Coughlin, the president and CEO of Great Lakes Bay Health Centers.
The plan required volunteers to perform the tests. Pant stepped up, joining a team featuring a the site manager, a registered nurse, two optometrists, two medical assistants, and maintenance staff.
“Many people were hesitant to join because it is scary,” she said. “After all, you don’t want to catch this virus that is so contagious and you don’t want to take it home with you to your family, which is understandable.”
On the first day of sampling, the team tested 10 patients. Since then, as many as 33 people seek testing there daily. So far, more than 230 individuals have been tested in Saginaw by Great Lakes Bay Health Centers, which opened a sampling site at its Huron County location earlier this month. The organization will open a third drive-through sampling site on Thursday, April 9, this time at its Great Lakes Bay Health Centers-Bayside location at 3884 Monitor in Bay City. The site will operate Mondays through Fridays, from noon to 4 p.m.
To be tested at any of the sites, a patient must bring a referral from a medical provider. Those who lack such documentation are scheduled for “telehealth” sessions with staff from Great Lakes Bay Health Centers.
“We don’t turn anyone away,” Pant said.
She also engages with patients in the telehealth sessions, a practice that allows her to utilize communications technology – such as smart phones or tablets – to assess patients without being in the same room with them. The practice eliminates the danger of transmitting the virus.
The more challenging of the two responsibilities, Pant said, remains the testing. The process involves suiting up in a full-body yellow hazmat suit and an N-95 mask for up to three hours daily, Mondays through Fridays.
“It was intimidating at first,” Pant said of slipping into the suit.
“Folks who suffer from claustrophobia or certain chronic health issues would find it difficult to wear for a long period of time. The mask seals tight on your face to prevent any air leaks. Sometimes you can feel very foggy, but it’s what’s necessary to stay safe.”
The discomfort of wearing the equipment likely pales in comparison to the emotional and physical distress experienced by the people seeking tests, Pant said.
“People are scared,” she said. “There’s this big fear of the unknown, because we know so little about COVID-19.”
When the patients see Pant, they often ask “really tough questions,” she said. When can I see my grandkids again? When can I go back to work to provide for my family? Will my chronic health condition be addressed like it was before?
“We do the best we can to provide reassurance and information on how they can follow safety protocols,” she said.
When Pant finishes each shift, she follows her own safety protocols and guidelines – provided by local health departments and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control – to ensure she remains healthy. Each worn hazmat suit is destroyed. When she arrives home, she changes out of her work clothing in her garage before entering the house.
While such precautions ensure the virus doesn’t follow her home, COVID-19 remains a part of her life even after work.
She communicates regularly with others working in the health care industry across the nation. Some of her closest friends work in metro Detroit and New York City hospitals, two virus hotspots where thousands have died from COVID-19 – including health care workers exposed to the virus on the job.
“I have friends who work in intensive care units and ERs who have faced much harder scenes than I have faced,” Pant said. “It’s incredibly heartbreaking to hear what they are experiencing. They’re risking their lives to save lives.”
In her Saginaw Township home, Pant plays the role of daughter, caring for her 71-year-old mother. With the virus proving especially deadly for older populations, Pant said she is helping to ensure her mother requires little – if any – contact with people outside of their home.
“Thankfully, she’s a very healthy woman,” Pant said. “We are going to minimize risk as much as possible.”
Despite her day-and-night schedule revolving around COVID-19, Pant said she is maintaining her own mental health.
“I can’t let myself live in worry,” she said.
“I’m human, just like everybody else, so this seems scary at times. Being well informed and doing our part to ensure safety is important. We just have to tackle this challenge and take care of each other like we would any other time.”
To learn more about Great Lakes Bay Health Centers services relating to COVID-19, please visit greatlakesbayhealthcenters.org
. The webpage includes locations and hours of operations for COVID-19 testing sites across the state, information about how to identify symptoms of COVID-19, and how Great Lakes Bay Health Centers can support individuals who suspect they carry COVID-19.
"The mission of Great Lakes Bay Health Centers is to provide excellent health care to individuals and communities, especially those who are underserved, uninsured or underinsured. The services provided are sensitive to the needs of the community, are not based on ability to pay and are offered without regard to criteria such as race, religion, national origin, sexual orientation or gender identity."
April 2, 2020
As COVID-19 exacerbates challenges of opioid epidemic, SVSU-led initiative offers solutions to health care teams worldwide
A Saginaw Valley State University-operated initiative is taking the lead — on a global scale — in providing expert solutions that support one of the populations left most vulnerable to COVID-19: people recovering from substance use disorders.
The SVSU-organized Project ECHO beginning in October 2018 convened bi-weekly via teleconference, providing access for health care providers to a panel of substance use disorder experts from the Great Lakes Bay Region. When COVID-19 reached across all 50 states in March, attendance for the sessions more than doubled as social distancing measures and rising anxieties intensified the challenges already faced by substance use disorder recoverees. That group included the population already struggling through the nation's years-long opioid epidemic.
“Isolation is the enemy of a person with a substance use disorder,” said Kathleen Schachman, a Project ECHO organizer who serves as SVSU’s Harvey Randall Wickes Endowed Chair in Nursing.
“It’s only through connections that they are really able to embrace recovery, and when we cut those connections, it has really negative consequences. There is an increased risk for relapse or overdose. That’s our challenge as health care providers — to prevent that — and so we at Project ECHO want to keep these health care teams engaged with their patients.”
And, more and more, those health care teams are tuning in to the guidance provided during Project ECHO’s free bi-weekly sessions. One month ago, about 30 health care professionals on average attended each teleconference. During a Wednesday, April 1 virtual gathering, 70 people participated.
The panel of experts include a social worker, pharmacist, addictionologist, psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner, a peer recovery coach and members of SVSU’s College of Health & Human Services faculty. After the group leads with a prepared lecture on a specific topic during each meeting, the session concludes with participants asking questions and sharing their own experiences and best practices.
“We’re democratizing knowledge and expanding the workforce capacity by helping our primary care teams,” Schachman said.
Largely, the Project ECHO sessions are attended by primary care teams in rural regions of the state, where in-person visits are more challenging for patients who live far from health care facilities that specialize in substance use disorder. Since Project ECHO began two years ago, the session attendees have included health care workers from 45 of Michigan’s 83 counties; 22 of the 50 U.S. states; as well as representatives from Canada and Tanzania.
This Wednesday's teleconference session topic centered largely on a practice known as “telehealth,” which involves utilizing technology — including two-way audio/visual communication and mobile apps — to tend to patients as an alternative to visiting them in person. It’s a practice Schachman said will become particularly useful for treating substance abuse disorder while those individuals are isolated from help during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Schachman and her SVSU colleagues are experienced in fighting substance use disorder. She leads a number of university-backed initiatives that connect health care workers with individuals addicted to alcohol and opioids.
In collaboration with Bay County Health Department, SVSU in 2015 established the Bay Community Health Clinic in downtown Bay City. The primary care clinic utilizes an integrated approach — teaming professionals in nursing, occupational therapy, pharmacy and social work — to address physical and mental health issues on multiple fronts. Those professionals are supported by students who provide help while receiving hands-on training. The clinic’s opening correlated with the escalation of the national opioid epidemic, bringing many Bay County residents suffering from addiction into the clinic’s care
With the support of nearly $6 million in U.S. Department of Health & Human Services grants, SVSU and Schachman established and expanded the clinic’s services.
More recently, the expansion included primary care support for patients unable to travel to the downtown site, instead utilizing telehealth practices to reach residents and caregivers in faraway rural communities. The Michigan Health Endowment Fund recently provided a grant funding the purchase of an important tool in telehealth — iPads — for patients and caregivers.
Project ECHO is one of the latest branches to sprout from the SVSU health and human services community outreach tree.
Health care professionals interested in participating in Project ECHO sessions can register for free at svsu.edu/echo
. The next session is Wednesday, April 15.
The teleconferences are broadcast at noon on the first and third Wednesdays of each month via Zoom, an online program that connects users in a multi-screen platform for group meetings. Sessions typically last 90 minutes.
April 2, 2020
SVSU psychology educator offers advice on maintaining mental health during COVID-19
Maintaining a daily routine is one of a number of measures individuals can practice in order to maintain their mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic, a Saginaw Valley State University educator advised.
Travis Pashak, associate professor of psychology, offered three tips and resources for those struggling with mental health during the pandemic. They are as follows:
1. This is an unprecedented global crisis, so mental health fluctuations are to be expected. It's perfectly normal to be feeling anxious, upset, sad, angry, etc., about the circumstances. I think we sometimes have a knee-jerk reaction to want to label and pathologize every non-happy emotion and every non-smile behavior, and that's simply not reasonable in these times. It's normal to feel.
2. While we're dealing with a lot of collective uncertainty and existential angst, there are some things we can do to protect our sanity. Routine, sleep hygiene, exercise, connecting with friends/family, nutrition, and healthy self-care can all make a positive impact.
3. Lastly, if the above efforts aren't enough and someone feels like they really need help, there are indeed resources available. Suicide hotlines, local therapists offering phone-therapy, crisis textlines, and plenty of self-help materials are only a few clicks away. A few are listed below:
Pashak this week was interviewed about mental health maintenance during a WNEM, TV-5 feature Wednesday, April 2.
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