The UT Austin School of Nursing Family and Children’s Wellness Center Responds to COVID-19.

Dr. Stephanie Morgan

Since taking the helm four years ago as the director for the UT Austin School of Nursing Family Wellness Center and Children’s Wellness Center, Dr. Stephanie Morgan has steered the clinics through multiple obstacles. However, in the wake of COVID-19, Dr. Morgan has met an all new set of daunting circumstances, while ensuring the community retains access to health care services.

“The Children’s Wellness Center is in the unincorporated part of Travis County, which means the population we serve does not have access to all the services that the rest of the county does, such as public transportation. Sixty-nine percent of the population is Hispanic, thirty percent is undocumented, and fifty-five percent is living at or below under the federal poverty level.” said Dr. Morgan, Director of Practice Innovation at UT Austin School of Nursing. “Although we are only 15 miles from downtown Austin, there are still some homes without indoor plumbing, running water or power. Both of our clinics provide essential access to health care services to people who have limited options for care and we don’t turn anyone away for the inability to pay.”

Dr. Morgan’s deep understanding of the Children’s Wellness Center’s Del Valle community and her interest in providing high quality services have allowed the clinic to continue assisting the area, including the Del Valle Independent School District, for 24 years. A part of her success in managing the clinics was shrinking the monthly deficit, but the ground that was gained has been lost due to COVID-19.

In order for the clinics to continue providing health care in the safest way possible, large-scale adaptations have been implemented and equipment purchased. Everything from personal protection equipment to computers and software systems have placed a financial drain on the clinics’ resources. First, the staff moved most patient care visits online to telemedicine. Each clinic remodeled an exam room to support telemedicine and ensure patient privacy. Dr. Morgan and her staff phoned the entire active patient list to let them know the clinics were available as a source of information and support and were still providing appointments through telemedicine. The team also assessed families’ social needs and connected them with services, an outreach effort that continues to be provided. Lastly, new procedures have been put in place to safeguard the health of patients who still require in-person visits, particularly children needing vaccinations. The visits are more spread out and the clients now wait in their vehicles until they can be seen, enter the clinic one at a time, and staff disinfect between visits.

“During the last four years, Dr. Morgan has expanded the services in our current clinics, worked to open a new clinic, facilitated new partnerships, and, most importantly, she has reached out and worked with the community” said Dr. Alexa Stuifbergen, Dean of the UT Austin School of Nursing. “As hospitals cancelled clinical rotations for nursing students during the COVID-19 crisis, Dr. Morgan increased the number of nursing students at the clinics – helping our students get the clinical experiences that are critical to their educational program.”

With her team of advanced practice nurses, public health nurses, community health workers and a social worker, Dr. Morgan is constantly reviewing new information, updating clinic standards and collaborating with health organizations on best practices in order for both clinics to provide the most robust services possible during uncertain times.

Dr. Morgan added, “No day is the same during this pandemic. Clinicians tend to be creatures of habit and we like routine, so operating these clinics under continually changing circumstances has been difficult. I am optimistic that we will see some level of normalcy again, albeit there will be a new normal. In the meantime, we will be agile, adapt and overcome the challenges this pandemic creates. We will continue to be a refuge for the community and provide the care and services they count on. We will remain steadfast in our mission to deliver compassionate healthcare regardless of the challenges that lie ahead. Nurses are trained and equipped to provide care when people are in need, especially during critical times. It is a calling for some, a sense of duty for others. Regardless, the clinic staff have certainly stepped up to do whatever was required to keep the safety and security of patients at the forefront. I am proud to be part of a team that is courageous and selfless and honored to be part of the most trusted profession.”