Registered nurse and public health professional Shanna Dell’10 has not one, but two “Covid jobs.”
Besides leading the infection control advisors, the part of the Baltimore City Health Department’s Covid outbreak team focused on controlling infections in congregate settings, such as nursing homes, she signed on to an emergency staffing pool with the University of Maryland.
Most weekends, that second gig means she’s the charge nurse at the TRI Center, a unique, collaborative public health project that offers triage, respite, and isolation for Covid patients.
That’s where she’s crossed paths with Beloiter Bobby Harris’08, the center’s site director.
“I decided I had to do some clinical Covid work because I felt like I could treat people who had been diagnosed the way I would want to be treated if I was sick,” Dell says.
She takes inspiration from the many nurses she’s come to know who were working with HIV patients long before the disease’s transmission was understood.
“There are so many stories, but the common factor is they wanted to help treat people who weren’t being treated in a respectful and humane way,” Dell says. “This is the nursing reality and mindset I have been mentored in and still live in. Despite great strides in HIV knowledge, treatment, and prevention, people with HIV still experience high levels of stigma in both the non-medical and medical world.”
Through a partnership, Dell is paid through the Johns Hopkins infectious disease department, then contracted out to the city health department. Before Covid, her regular health department job focused on developing and shaping nurse-centered HIV pre-exposure prevention programs, which have nurses providing most of the preventive care. She helped start a similar program in the HIV clinic at Johns Hopkins University where she completed nursing school, followed by a master’s degree in public health.
These days, she spends her weekdays running a program that helps nursing homes interpret and implement national and local guidelines for Covid infection control.
“A lot of the HIV leadership here transitioned into Covid leadership, and I think that speaks to the fact that HIV providers are used to doing what needs to be done and then turning it into policies, instead of the other way around,” she says.
At Beloit, Dell found her way to public health through Professor Emerita of Biology Marion Fass, who introduced her to the field, connected her with internships and other opportunities, and sent her friendly reminders about nursing school application deadlines, post-Beloit.
Fass encouraged her to shoot for top graduate programs and gave her good advice. For instance, she suggested studying nursing first, then public health, a kind of practice-before-policy approach. After Dell completed her nursing program, she worked as a nurse while finishing her public health degree.
“I always say I didn’t discover public health until I met Marion Fass,” Dell says. “Once I talked to her and took some classes, I was like: This is exactly what I’m meant to be doing with my life.”
Dell grew up in Madison, where she was active politically and socially. She initially thought she’d go to medical school, but public health drew her in and spoke to her social consciousness.
“I was a biochemistry major at Beloit, and HIV interested me on the biochemical level,” she says, but it also pulls in all the social determinants of health, the social justice, all of those components.”
While Covid has temporarily sidelined Dell’s social life and most of her weekend downtime, she recognizes the insights she’s gaining from being in the thick of this work right now.
“People have really been stepping up, and it’s a difficult time, but I’ve been talking to people in areas of the health department that I wouldn’t have been talking to before, and there’s room for future partnerships,” she says. “Plus, we’re making more relationships with external partners. So it’ll be interesting to see where this takes us in the future.”
Read more stories about alumni working “In the Trenches in the Time of Covid”.