The University Health Center celebrated its employees for all of their extra effort during the COVID-19 pandemic with a staff appreciation event on May 18.
“I think it’s really important at an occasion like this one that I express on behalf of thousands and thousands of students, faculty and staff just how much we appreciate all that you have done during the past year and more to keep this university going through some pretty challenging times,” UGA President Jere W. Morehead said.
The event included a lunch from Taqueria 1785, UGA’s food truck, and La Michoacana Es Natural ice cream, provided by the Office of the President. Employees also received a pin and a T-shirt featuring a replica of a winged mural in the UHC.
“We needed your leadership and expertise to help the rest of the campus, and particularly those of us who had to make some difficult decisions, figure out a path forward,” Morehead said. “Thank you for what you have meant to the university and what you will continue to mean to the university in the coming weeks, months and years. We appreciate it very much.”
Garth Russo, the UHC’s executive director, shared similar sentiments.
“This truly is about celebrating and moving forward to the next phase of things,” Russo said. “I can’t express how much I appreciate all of you for being here now and for being there this past year.”
During the past year, the UHC and its staff pivoted in significant ways, from enhanced protocols to treat patients during a pandemic to partnering with Veterinary Medicine to deliver surveillance testing to ramping up to give approximately 900 COVID-19 vaccinations per day.
“I’m glad things are getting back to normal. Hopefully we were able to provide good service for everybody,” said Tiffany Taylor, who is a clinic assistant in the gynecology clinic.
For Emily Shumate, a dental hygienist in the Dental Clinic, it was still all about the patients.
“It’s meant a lot to still be able to see them,” she said.
Pharmacy manager Bradford Upchurch saw significant changes in his role, particularly once the UHC started receiving doses of the COVID-19 vaccine. First, he and his team worked with campus partners to secure an ultra-cold freezer to store the Pfizer vaccine, which needs to be held at minus 80 degrees to minus 60 degrees Celsius. It also meant coming to the pharmacy at times before sunrise or on weekends to ensure vaccines were unpacked and prepared.
“We had a lot of help. We had a lot of people thinking on their feet and a lot of people making cool, calm-headed decisions,” he said.
He’s particularly proud of the vaccine rollout.
“It was exciting, because when the vaccine came out, it was this rare element that not that many people had. It was precious because there wasn’t much of it,” he said. “It was exciting. It was a little bit scary, but it was amazing. We’re all so happy that we’ve had a part in this. It was a historic time.”
All of that was in addition to filling prescriptions and helping customers. But Upchurch believes all of the extra work was worth it to keep the campus community healthy.
“Everyone came together for the larger purpose,” he said. “This was a time we were needed, and this was the time to show up and plug in and be available.”