Women line a hallway at the Salvation Army as a computer tablet rests on a stand atop a pole near the check-in desk.
The equipment resembles a skeletal robot, but the human face of nurse Bre Loughlin appears on the screen. It’s 4 p.m., time to screen 40 or so women for COVID-19 before they sign in for the night at the homeless shelter on East Washington Avenue.
Loughlin asks the women, one by one, if they have a long list of symptoms, including cough, fever and a loss of taste or smell. She reminds them to stay 6 feet away from each other. If their face masks slip down, she says, they should adjust them from the side straps to avoid contamination.
“Anytime you touch something, you need to rub the hand sanitizer in and let it dry for 10 seconds,” Loughlin says. “Even better is when you can wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds.”
Loughlin is CEO of Nurse Disrupted, a company she started in April with president Tracy Zvenyach. They and other nurses have been providing online COVID-19 screening at Porchlight’s homeless shelter for men since late March and at the Salvation Army women’s shelter since May.
They’re looking to expand the business by working at other homeless shelters, perhaps with money from the federal CARES Act, and talking to campuses and businesses about providing response planning and employee screening.
Long-term, they see potential for their virtual nursing service at public schools, which have seen a reduction in staff nurses, and in prisons, where they could help manage the chronic diseases and mental health of inmates.
With Wisconsin forecast to have a shortage of nearly 12,000 nurses by 2030, Nurse Disrupted could also extend the reach of the workforce while helping train student nurses to increase supply, Zvenyach said.
“We’re very committed to the future of the nursing workforce,” she said.
Loughlin, who previously worked at Verona-based Epic Systems Corp., donated gift cards at Porchlight on March 23. She learned that non-medical staff were struggling to screen guests for the coronavirus and deciding when to send people to hotels or emergency rooms.
Two days later, she volunteered to provide online screening at Porchlight, with a nurse on one tablet asking initial questions and offering prevention tips, and another available for detailed discussions with guests who said they had symptoms.
“I’m a nurse, and I’m a technology person,” Loughlin said. “We can take two tablets and a wi-fi and roll out an evidence-based protocol.”
Nurses “have that ability to observe and ask for a little more information if needed,” she said.
She teamed up with Zvenyach, a nurse who has worked in health policy, including in Washington D.C., to form Nurse Disrupted, leaving Epic in May.
Now Zvenyach is talking to other counties about conducting COVID-19 screening at homeless shelters, a service that may qualify for CARES Act funding. She and Loughlin are talking to academic institutions and companies about workplace contracts.
Nursing students from Marian University in Fond du Lac have helped provide the homeless shelter screening, logging hours of experience needed for their degrees. Nurse Disrupted has set up similar arrangements with Marquette University, UW-Milwaukee, Edgewood College and Madison Area Technical College.
By providing screening online, the nurses are reducing the risk of COVID-19 transmission and helping to preserve medical masks and other protective equipment that would be needed to conduct the service in person. “We can get our nursing resources where they need to go without burning through the supply that we need more in our acute care setting,” Loughlin said.
As guests were screened at the Salvation Army shelter one afternoon last week, most seemed to welcome the online exchange with Loughlin, some waving to her before and after her questions and tips. With many staying there several nights in a row, it has become a daily ritual.
“The education gets reinforced,” Zvenyach said. “Sometimes they recite it back to us.”