Top Nurses 2020: Nurse Disrupted is screening the shelters

Bre Loughlin and Tracy Zvenyach of Nurse Disrupted were recipients of the innovation award.
Nurse Disrupted
Bre Loughlin (left) and Tracy Zvenyach (right) launched Nurse Disrupted to help homeless populations throughout the pandemic. The team was selected as top nurses this year. (January 2021)
Photos by Chris Hynes

Bre Loughlin and Tracy Zvenyach had 39 years of nursing experience between them when the COVID-19 pandemic started. Zvenyach, a registered nurse with a Ph.D. in health policy who teaches nursing students at Georgetown University as an assistant professor, spent the past decade working first on Capitol Hill and then for a pharmaceutical company. Loughlin was an executive at Epic Systems Corp. until May 2020, where she’d launched five products in eight years on the clinical informatics team. Before that, she’d been a front line nurse. The two have been neighbors and close friends for years.

On March 23, Loughlin answered a social media plea from Madison nonprofit Porchlight Inc.’s executive director to donate cash cards. That’s when she learned homeless service providers also needed clinical nurses to help screen shelter guests. Porchlight staff members weren’t equipped to recognize a mysterious, dangerous virus, and those seeking shelter rarely had a health care provider. Even if they did, the shelter didn’t open until 5 p.m., and by then clinics were closed.

“I came home and said, ‘I’ve got to do more. I’ve got some good friends, I can put up a couple tablets and a MiFi, and we can do virtual screening,’ ” recalls Loughlin, who called Zvenyach; then the Wisconsin Nurses Association; then her godmother, a retired nurse of 50 years in Bend, Oregon; then local friend and UnityPoint Health – Meriter outreach nurse Lauren Jerzak, who was already volunteer testing at shelters. The four women began virtually triaging shelter guests through a tablet. Asymptomatic individuals could stay at the shelter; those with symptoms either received a voucher for the state’s hotel quarantine program or were sent to the emergency department, based on the clinical assessment. “It was an idea on the 23rd and it was live by the 25th of March,” says Loughlin. “And Tracy and I haven’t slept since.”

Nurse Disrupted officially incorporated on April 8. It’s a turnkey solution that uses tablets with simplified technology and portable Wi-Fi to connect people with trained and licensed volunteer nurses. To date, Nurse Disrupted’s more than 160 virtual volunteers have conducted more than 8,000 COVID-19 screenings at Madison shelters.

A spokesperson from Public Health Madison & Dane County says there have been a few small and contained outbreaks in Madison’s homeless population, but not at sites where Nurse Disrupted volunteers are screening folks.

Nurse Disrupted volunteers include both active and retired nurses, as well as students which fills another critical gap: With outpatient sites closed or operating at reduced hours due to COVID-19, nursing students had been unable to get the clinical hours required for graduation. Nurse Disrupted formed academic partnerships with Wisconsin nursing schools to facilitate more than 400 student hours. Next up is Safer Spaces, a program to bring this technology into schools and businesses to help them reopen safely.

“Through Nurse Disrupted’s amazing innovation, more people have access to health care and the spread of COVID-19 is being stopped,” says Melissa Sorensen, executive director of Social Services for The Salvation Army of Dane County, which runs the city’s single women’s shelter. “Bre and Tracy are not only outstanding nurses, they’ve displayed incredible innovation.”

Read more on Top Nurses 2020 here.

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