URI Nursing professors volunteer with Health Department during coronavirus response

Call Center volunteers offer advice, support during difficult time

KINGSTON, R.I. — April 9, 2020 — A Rhode Island resident tested for coronavirus hadn’t yet received results of the test, but felt she needed to go to work. Another spotted an operating dog groomer while taking a walk and wanted to know if they should be open. Still another was told to get tested but was scared by what a positive result could mean.

“I think she just needed someone to talk to, to support her,” said University of Rhode Island College of Nursing Professor Pat Stout, who fielded the calls, about the worried caller. “That can be sort of our role, as well — being a support person. Sometimes, people just need someone to engage with.”

Stout is among a group of nursing professors from URI volunteering with the Rhode Island Department of Health during the coronavirus pandemic. Along with Professors Diane Martins and Dahianna Lopez, Stout has been working in the call center, fielding calls from concerned residents looking for critical information to help keep them safe during the pandemic. The volunteers answer the questions they can, refer callers to other resources they need, or sometimes just lend an ear to residents worried about themselves and their families.

“For most people, I haven’t sensed panic. I sensed more that they just didn’t know where to go to get answers,” Stout said. “Everyone is so busy right now that it can be hard to get answers. Some people don’t know where to turn. That’s what we’re here for. We’re not trying to engage in any kind of consultation or anything — this isn’t tele-health. We’re here to field calls, answer questions and give people the resources they need.”

As many as 10 volunteers at a time — spaced appropriately in the center for social distancing — answer questions ranging from travel restrictions and business closings to treatment advice. Stout advised one caller that driving his elderly mother to the doctor is considered essential travel and is allowed. She referred another who was experiencing symptoms to Rhode Island Hospital, and explained to a frustrated caller why she should stay home from work and remain separated from people, the best way to slow transmission of the virus.

“We give the advice we can and we have a list of resources to refer people for questions we can’t answer,” Stout said, noting more volunteers are always welcome, and a nursing degree isn’t necessary. “Volunteers can be anyone who has time to volunteer, and is very patient.”

Any residents with questions regarding COVID-19 can call 401-222-8022 daily, 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. After hours, call 211 or email RIDOH.COVID19Questions@health.ri.