University offers housing for front-line health workers, first responders

The Knight Center shares a message of welcome for front-line health workers and first responders who are staying there while working and caring for patients during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo: Joe Angeles/Washington University)

It all started with a call from the head of BJC HealthCare to Chancellor Andrew D. Martin. Doctors and nurses needed somewhere to stay amid intense work caring for the sick. Could Washington University in St. Louis help meet the need?

The answer was a resounding yes. Then came the organizing and planning to make the process run smoothly. The university has shifted in a matter of weeks from housing and feeding students to housing and feeding doctors, nurses and other health-care providers.

Dedric Carter, vice chancellor for operations and technology transfer, said the university is stepping up to take care of health-care workers on the front lines of fighting the pandemic.

“We’re filling a need at a difficult and historic time,” he said.

The university is offering a place to stay, along with meals, for School of Medicine and BJC providers who don’t want to return home between shifts, either to avoid the risk of spreading the virus to their families or due to travel distance, especially if their duties take them to a facility farther from home than their usual workplace.

The first wave of health-care workers has been staying at the Danforth Campus’ Charles F. Knight Executive Education and Conference Center, which isn’t open to regular guests at this time. The center has 66 rooms.

Additionally, Carter worked with the Office of Residential Life to ready the Lofts on the Delmar Loop, off-campus university-managed apartments, to also house medical professionals, and some are staying there as well.

For now, between the two locations there are enough rooms to accommodate up to 345 guests, Carter said. Dozens have stayed in university housing already.

One Washington University family has a very personal perspective on the effort.

Jaya Bhat recently began working in human resources at Olin Business School, though she has yet to set foot in the buildings given the work-from-home orders.

Adithya Bhat

Meanwhile, her son, Adithya Bhat, MD, an anesthesiologist and instructor at the School of Medicine, has been caring for COVID-19 patients and is among the doctors staying at the Knight Center.

He’s no stranger to the Danforth Campus, having earned his undergraduate degree here in 2010. He said it has been surreal to be back under such circumstances, but that he’s grateful for a safe place to stay.

“Because of my exposure risk, it’s important to me that I distance myself from my loved ones,” Bhat said.

“The staff have all been incredibly kind and accommodating,” he said. “I’m optimistic that we will weather the storm together, and it’s an honor to serve the community during its time of need.”

Read more about their story on the Olin blog.

Members of the university community have shared messages of gratitude for health workers, and the  Knight Center is displaying those on digital signs around the building. (Photo: Joe Angeles/Washington University)

In mid-April, the university expanded its offer beyond School of Medicine and BJC employees to first responders near campus — Washington University Police Department (WUPD) and Protective Services along with Clayton, University City and St. Louis police and fire departments.

Such workers who need somewhere to stay are encouraged to call the university’s Emergency Operations Center to get the process started (314-273-7160). Generally, people are able to have a room ready that night, Carter explained.

“These doctors and nurses are making incredible sacrifices to help our community. We’re just grateful we can give back a little.”

Peter Arscott

The project has been a significant team effort, involving the Office of Operations and Technology Transfer (which includes Dining Services, Environmental Health and Safety, Summer Conferences and Events, Resource Management and Parking and Transportation); Student Affairs; Emergency Management; WUPD, Protectives Services; the Office of the General Counsel; Government and Community Relations; and Olin Business School. University contractors, including Flik and Bon Appetit catering, have provided food services.

sandwich prep
Semira Dizdarevic, of Bon Appetit, prepares sandwiches April 22 on the South 40. Some will be delivered to health-care workers staying at the Lofts. (Photo: Joe Angeles/Washington University)

The catering and environmental health officials offered guidelines to make sure rooms are cleaned and disinfected properly and that the intake process and meal delivery does not require face-to-face interaction during normal operations to maintain the safest environment for staff, Carter explained.

“These doctors and nurses are making incredible sacrifices to help our community,” said Peter Arscott, the Knight Center general manager.  “We’re just grateful we can give back a little.”

To learn more about the ways our students, faculty, staff and alumni are caring for one another and our communities, visit #WashUtogether.

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