FARMINGTON — At a time when staying well is a priority, Shelley Hickey, director of the Health Center at the University of Maine at Farmington, has created the Peer Care Manager Program, an initiative dedicated to students helping students who are experiencing quarantine or isolation in order to keep the campus safe from possible COVID-19 infections.

The innovative program was created to provide peer support in many forms and help student’s experience with quarantine and isolation be less stressful.

Quarantine is for students experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 while the results of their PCR test is pending or who have had contact with someone who tested positive. It generally lasts for 14 days. Isolation is for individuals who have tested positive according to the campus Asymptomatic Testing Program or PCR symptomatic testing. They are isolated for approximately 10 days. In both cases, students are currently placed in private rooms on campus.

Four UMF students were hired as Peer Care Managers at the beginning of October and underwent several weeks of training before beginning their duties. On average, they work approximately 10-20 hours a week.

“Our Peer Care Managers are invaluable for ensuring needs are met for our students in isolation and quarantine, which is critical to gaining student compliance and protecting the safety of the UMF community,” said Hickey. “They assist students with understanding and managing the requirements and limitations of quarantine and isolation as well as advocate, connect students to necessary resources and communicate with appropriate personnel while maintaining confidentiality. They are a great group of students who clearly represent UMF’s commitment to keep our entire community safe.”

Peer Care Managers completed campus compliance training as well as an extensive contact tracing training developed by Johns Hopkins University. Training videos and readings on the virus and contact tracing help them understand how to provide encouragement and support to fellow students during stressful times. In addition, they maintain documentation of tracing activities to assist the Health Center in coordinating with the Maine Center for Disease Control.

Brianna Hinkley, a senior from Kingfield, and a PCM was surprised at how well the student population is doing and how smoothly the plan is working.  

“Naturally, I was a little concerned at first, but we follow all the campus and CDC guidelines to make sure our safety comes first.”

Hinkley is majoring in Anthropology with a minor in Health and Medicine and wanted to make a difference at this important time.

“The UMF community is so important to all of its students,” said Hinkley. “Even though this year is far from normal, with hybrid classes and social distancing, Farmington is our home and we want to be here and do the things that make that possible.”

Madison Vigeant, a senior from Unity; Hunter Ellis, a senior from Wilton; and Sam Folsom, a first-year student from Winthrop, round out the team of Peer Care Managers who support each other in addition to their peer support goals.

They created a Google calendar so they can take turns during the day escorting students to their quarantine room, bringing meals, and staying in communication. They stay safe with the consistent use of masks, gloves, handwashing and physical distancing. In addition they are regularly tested with UMF’s Asymptomatic Testing, as is the rest of campus.

“It was important to us that students have other students to help them through the challenges of being in isolation or quarantine,” said Christine Wilson, vice president of Student Affairs. “Who better to deliver meals or escort individuals to quarantine than the friendly face of another student who is pursuing a degree at UMF?”

The program not only helps students needing care, it also provides valuable experiential learning for the Peer Care Managers. A psychology major, Vigeant has a lot of experience with counseling and is interested in applying those skills to help decide which field of Psychology she wants to pursue. Ellis is majoring in Biology and Farmington’s Pre-Professional program to help her prepare for medical school.

“I have had some great pre-professional experience opportunities at UMF to help me on the path to becoming a doctor,” said Ellis. “This program is unique in that it has us involved with a real-world health crisis and applying the CDC’s best practices to keep our campus community healthy.”

A special education major, Folsom was a CNA during her junior and senior year in high school and was interested in getting back into the helping field. She herself had been in quarantine for flu-like symptoms while at UMF and understands what students are going through.

“Students have been very cooperative and are doing well at reporting any symptoms,” she said. “We all have the same goal. We want everyone to feel cared for and do our best to keep the entire community safe.”