During the 2009 H1N1 outbreak, ill students living in on-campus housing posed a special concern for the University of Iowa (UI). The Office of Residence Life focused many of their efforts on training Resident Assistants (RAs) to respond appropriately to ill students living in their halls.
The UI Office of Residence Life typically employs approximately 118 RAs during each academic year. Each RA lives on a floor of 40 to 75 students and is responsible for a variety of functions, including: planning events and developing a community on the floor, counseling students with academic or personal problems, confronting inappropriate behavior, and being on call to respond to students' emergencies 24 hours a day. Their overall priority involves providing a safe and comfortable environment for students living on their floors.
Staff from the Office of Residence Life and Student Health Service developed checklists and scripts that RAs and full-time professional staff could follow as they assessed potentially ill students, responded to inquiries from parents and students, and assured the general health and safety of their halls. Checklists and scripts were geared toward different roles in residence hall management. A response protocol for the 24-hour residence hall help desk addressed how to respond to reports of student illness, how to accurately assess if or what type of healthcare a student may need, and information students may need to obtain meals if they are unable to leave the residence hall. Rather than asking RAs to make decisions about referral or treatment, the protocol asks the student to communicate his/her needs and presents the RA with healthcare and transportation resources to offer the student.
Similarly, extensive guidelines for RAs and full-time professional housing staff gave these personnel the information they needed to respond to student and parent inquiries about illness in their halls. The algorithm provided information on how to access various levels of healthcare for an ill student, including availability of transportation and phone consultations; how to order meal packs for students unable to leave their rooms; and how to obtain other materials, such as facemasks and gloves. The guidelines also describe some expectations of RAs and professional housing staff and how they can encourage/practice social distancing and maintain the privacy of a student's condition from inquiring parents or friends.
RAs monitored ongoing illness within their halls, doing a head count of ill students each week and reporting the number at weekly staff meetings. By providing RAs and other residence hall staff with information and decision-making tools, UI ensured that those working closely with students were able to address their healthcare needs.