Insight from On Site

By Charles McKenzie, November 24, 2020
Alumni set up a pandemic testing site in a mall parking lot.

Anna Rosenblatt ’12, a practice facilitator for Cayuga Health Partners, was at home on March 14 when a message came in from work: “Can you come in?” That was the text. 

The context was that the spread of COVID-19 meant mobile sampling sites were needed to flatten the curve. In plain text, Cayuga Health needed to finalize the planning for and opening of a drive-through testing site for Ithaca and the surrounding communities. Rosenblatt’s text came on Saturday, and the first patient/car rolled through the sampling site on Monday. There, proud but nervous, was Rosenblatt.

Asked whether she had done anything like this before, Rosenblatt laughed before she responded, “Well, I have definitely never set up a giant pandemic testing site before, no.” While she didn’t know all the specifics of the site, she knew what process was needed. Much of the preliminary planning had already been done.

“What was left was just process-mapping on paper, so writing out exactly what steps would be accomplished in what order and which could be kind of flip-flopped as long as they were completed. Being able to do that workflow mapping, that’s what I was able to immediately contribute.”

It was also a new experience for Greg Lee ’19, a public and community health major who was working for Cayuga Medical Associates in its first manager-in-training program. Although initially he helped to ensure patients were matched with their profiles in the health system’s records, soon he and Rosenblatt had helped set up not one testing location but two. After a week at the initial location on Craft Road, a higher-capacity replacement site was erected in the nearby parking lot of the Shops at Ithaca Mall. Lee transitioned to managing the staging, traffic, and flow of the new site — even working with Ithaca College to get barriers donated. Their methodical plans paid off as, once the mall site was up and running, it was testing 150-200 patients per day and occasionally offering same-day results.

“When I was first brought on to this testing-site project, I felt better prepared to adapt on the spot,” said Lee. “It was a big challenge, but I learned to adapt. You go into the day with a plan, but it might not always work out. You have to make the best of it and troubleshoot things while staying calm, cool, and collected.”

woman outside

Anna Rosenblatt ’12, a practice facilitator for Cayuga Health Partners.

He said he really appreciated the chance to work on the project with so many people, including Rosenblatt and fellow practice facilitator Teresa Craugh ’19

“It was really cool seeing everyone come together to work on one project for one common goal — especially that last weekend before the first site opened. That was really intense.”

The first location opened March 16. “Something beautiful happened almost immediately,” Rosenblatt said. “There was this real sense of teamwork and camaraderie. If someone exited the building and didn’t have a glove on, someone would say, ‘Oh, wait, you don’t have your glove.’ People were looking out for each other. That was something not only leaders were doing but people at every level. That was awesome to see that very human reaction.”

Rosenblatt essentially reframes the global pandemic as a hyper-local problem—even things like sharing extra food or hand sanitizer with a neighbor or someone in need is important. 

“It’s like, I can’t really do anything about this huge pandemic. But you know what? There are these problems happening right in front of me that I can work on.” 

Anna Rosenblatt ’12, a practice facilitator for Cayuga Health Partners

“I don’t want to detract from the fact that there are these giant scary things going on right now, and we should take time to acknowledge that and to allow ourselves to feel that sadness, but do not let them consume you.

“It’s like, I can’t really do anything about this huge pandemic. But you know what? There are these problems happening right in front of me that I can work on,” she said. “I can either say, ‘There’s nothing I can do,’ and be totally overwhelmed, or I can say, ‘Here are the things I can do to help people, so I’m just going to do them. And if I keep doing them, and if that person is able to help someone else, we can build it out.’”

Rosenblatt is inspired daily by all the people around her, not just on site but everywhere: “I feel lucky to see all the ways people have figured out to help each other, and there’s a whole community that’s being built around all of this. It’s happening everywhere in different ways, but it is part of what I really appreciate about living in Ithaca.” 

“It’s a very tangible way to help,” said Rosenblatt about her work at the testing site. “If I can focus on those things, it makes me feel less alone and overwhelmed. Yes, I’ve been working seven days a week, but maybe I’m also doing that because it makes me feel better, and it wouldn’t be good for me to sit in my house and not work. Because of who I am as a person, if anything, I think it was actually better for me to stay busy. Time will tell.” 

She and Lee both say they appreciate the opportunity to help during the pandemic and feel lucky to have skill sets that are needed. And their gratitude is matched by a local community that had been on edge but is headed safely in the right direction — one vehicle at a time.

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