As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to drastically affect the health center workforce, the second season of the STAR² Center Talks Workforce Success podcast dives deeper into the immediate and long-term effects of this crisis on health centers. In this episode, ACU’s Michelle Fernández Gabilondo interviews Jessica Cannon Wilson, Substance Abuse Program Director at Canyonlands Healthcare in Arizona, to discuss Jessica’s personal COVID-19 experience and the impact a positive test has on the individual and health center workforce.
Full Transcript: The Personal Impact of a Positive COVID-19 Test
Introduction: Welcome to the COVID-19 installment of STAR² Center Talks Workforce Success, which features the voices of workforce leaders from health centers and primary care associations around the nation. We know this invaluable information will help in your journey to advance the workforce initiatives of your organization.
Michelle Fernández Gabilondo: Welcome everyone. My name is Michelle Fernández. I am the Senior Training Specialist here at the Association of Clinicians for the Underserved and I’m coming to you today from our STAR² Center. Today we’re talking with Jessica Canon Wilson, substance abuse program director at Canyonlands Healthcare in Page, Arizona. Welcome Jessica.
Jessica Wilson: Hi, thank you.
Michelle Fernández Gabilondo: So thank you so much for being here with us today. We’re very excited to talk to you. Just to get things started, I was wondering if you could tell me a bit about your health center, where it’s located and the patients that you serve.
Jessica Wilson: Sure. So Canyon Lands Healthcare is an FQHC, a federally qualified healthcare center. We actually have nine clinics throughout the state of Arizona, and they are all located in rural areas. We have two clinics here in Page. We have a regular Lake Powell Medical Center, and then we have an urgent care.
Jessica Wilson: Now, where I’m at is at the administrative building. And then we have a clinic in Beaver Dam, and then we have a clinic on the Navajo reservation. Then we have a clinic in Globe, Arizona, two in Safford, Arizona, one in Duncan, Arizona, and one in Clifton, Arizona.
Michelle Fernández Gabilondo: Thank you for sharing that. Just on a personal, I find Arizona to be one of the most beautiful states.
Jessica Wilson: There are some beautiful places throughout the whole state.
Michelle Fernández Gabilondo: As you know today, and we will get into these questions in a little bit. We did want to talk about your experience with COVID-19. However, before we get into that, we do want to know for our listeners, your professional journey. How did you get to the role that you’re currently in? How long have you been in this role, and anything else that you would like to tell us as the substance abuse program director?
Jessica Wilson: So I received my bachelor’s in psychology and went on to get a master’s in human relations counseling. And after my master’s program I moved back to Page. And then I received a call from Canyon Lands and they offered me the behavioral health coordinator position to establish and build behavioral health services within the clinics, within our clinics.
Jessica Wilson: And I was in that role for a couple of years. And then I helped write a grant for substance abuse program services to incorporate those into our behavioral health program. Well, we ended up getting the grant and within that grant was, we had written in this position, the substance abuse program director position. So it’s been about two years now. We’re just finishing up our second year of the grant. That’s how I got where I’m at. We have one more year of the grant and hopefully we can extend it so we can continue to build our substance abuse program throughout our clinics.
Michelle Fernández Gabilondo: Yes, I will be right there with you hoping that the grant gets extended because the work that you’re doing is so important and so necessary. So thank you for sharing that about your professional journey, and your position at your health center. So, as I mentioned before, this podcast is focused on the experience of COVID-19 for individuals who are in the health center workforce. I would like for you to share, if you could tell us about your experience with COVID-19 for our listeners.
Jessica Wilson: Sure. Back in the beginning of June I was experiencing like allergy type symptoms. I thought I just had allergies. I was sneezing a lot and a lot of sinus pressure. I really didn’t think much of it. It’s the summertime things are blooming. I started to lose my smell and taste very gradual. So gradual that I didn’t even realize it was happening. One day I was talking to someone about what I was drinking and that they had the same drink. And they made a comment about what it tastes like, how strong it was with the flavor. And I said, I don’t taste that at all. Then I started thinking about it and I couldn’t, I would try to smell something and I couldn’t smell anything. And so I was like, oh well, I guess my allergies are so bad that it’s affecting my smell and taste, because I didn’t feel sick.
Jessica Wilson: So I thought, it can’t be COVID because from what I hear COVID is so scary and deadly, and this can’t be COVID. Well, that was over the weekend. Monday I talked to our medical director here in the office and just told her what was going on and said, “I know this is a symptom of COVID, but this is the only symptom I have. I don’t feel sick at all.” And she said, “Yeah, it’s probably just allergies causing this, but please go get tested just to make sure.” So I did that day and yes, it came back positive. So that was an immediate stay at home for two weeks quarantine. So at that point I started looking back and realizing that I had been experiencing losing my smell and taste through that whole past week, once I started putting the pieces together.
Jessica Wilson: And so then I had to start doing the call to all the people that I had been in contact with, my family, coworkers. So it felt really shameful, actually. The call of shame. It was strange, but for me, I was never fearful of getting COVID. That’s just who I am. I don’t know. I’m a pretty healthy person. I have a strong immune system and that just wasn’t me.
Jessica Wilson: But I never wanted to contract it and then give it to someone. I would never want to do that. So that was a horrible part about it, just was thinking I possibly could’ve given it to my 89 year old grandmother who I had been with last week. Other than that, I just stayed home for two weeks. I live with my partner, he didn’t contract it. We had two roommates at the time, they didn’t contract it. So I wasn’t even contagious. I know that for sure because live with my partner and no one else in my family contracted it. Yeah, so I just stayed for two weeks and cleaned my house a lot, and went on a lot of walks with my dogs. And the only other thing is that, I don’t know if this was COVID or not, but I take naps every day. Whether that was just because I could, or maybe I did have some fatigue.
Michelle Fernández Gabilondo: Thank you so much for sharing your story with us today. I am so glad that you’re doing better. That your symptoms did not develop any further. But you speak to that shamefulness, which is very much something that we’ve talked about here at the STAR² Center, around the stigma with receiving a positive COVID test, both from the workforce, the staff side in health centers, but also from the patients. So thank you for sharing your story and being open about it.
Michelle Fernández Gabilondo: I know for our listeners, it will be very helpful to hear those personal stories of individuals who work in health centers who have gone through this experience. I do want to expand just a little bit more on, as you told us about your personal experience and having gone through this, and the difficulty of, I can’t even imagine losing taste and smell for that long of a timeframe.
Michelle Fernández Gabilondo: Do you have any advice or words of wisdom for other individuals who are health center staff? Especially behavioral health practitioners, because that is very much the area that you’re working in, who may be diagnosed with COVID and how do they work and manage all of the different things that come with that, both from the physical symptoms, the fear of spreading this to anyone, and then also that potential stigma that may arise.
Jessica Wilson: I feel very fortunate for, I guess, the very light symptoms that I had. And so maybe that’s given me a different outlook. I just really encourage people to try to stay positive. I feel like the more negative and the more fearful, that can really impact either how, if and when you contract COVID, how your body reacts to it. I personally believe that’s one of the reasons that I had a more easy, I guess, case of COVID. I find that being positive, not living in fear so much. Stay away from the media. Try to educate yourself with the real facts. Talk to your medical provider. If you’re feeling fearful maybe you should talk to a behavioral health specialist or counselor, a coworker.
Jessica Wilson: I honestly just think that taking care of yourself physically and mentally is a huge key in just getting through this. And working in the medical field I’ve seen it’s a pretty large spectrum of people like me, for instance, all the way to people quitting their jobs because they live in such fear. And I just think that the people that have gotten through this easier maybe do utilize our behavioral health counselors if they’re feeling fearful. Or just really focusing on just being positive, staying positive, trusting in your immune system, and staying healthy and doing whatever you can for yourself to protect yourself in the way that you feel is the best way to do it. But not losing yourself in all this chaos. And that’s just my personal opinion.
Michelle Fernández Gabilondo: Thank you for sharing that. Yes, and the importance of taking the physical and the mental health, all of it together as a way to let us get through this. We’re still very much in the midst of this pandemic, even with the vaccines and all that. We know more about it. So just really appreciate you providing those words of wisdom to our listeners today, and giving us an insight into your own personal experience and ways that you see that people can really overcome this to not be taken in by fear, but rather looking at the strengths and how you can move forward during something so difficult. So just really appreciate all that you shared today. All of the insight that you provided to us. Again, I just want to say thank you so much for being here today. As you know, we were talking to Jessica Wilson, substance abuse program director at Canyon Lands Health Center in Page, Arizona. Again, thank you so much, Jessica, for being here with us today.
Jessica Wilson: Thank you so much for having me.
Closing: Thank you very much for joining us today. We hope today’s conversation provided you with ideas, suggestions, and insights into ways you can approach, adjust to and mitigate the immediate and long-term changes COVID-19 brought to your health center. In addition to listening to this reflection on the personal impact of a positive COVID-19 test, check out all of our free workforce tools and resources found chcworkforce.org.