Korah Schwab graduated from Frontier Nursing University’s (FNU) Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP) Program in May of 2019, unaware that the world would soon enter a pandemic. Shortly after finishing her program, Schwab was offered a position at Blue Ridge Community Health Center in Hendersonville, N.C., where she began her FNP career. However, as COVID started to hit the nation, Hendersonville, a town consisting of many immigrant and retirement communities, quickly became a COVID-19 hotspot.
Blue Ridge Health was originally opened by a nurse practitioner as the nation’s first migrant health center. Hendersonville is primarily farm country, known for its apple orchards, resulting in a high migrant population. Blue Ridge is an uninsured clinic that accepts patients with or without health insurance; thus, they continue to care for the majority of the migrants in the area. Because many migrants find themselves working in positions without social distancing or paid sick time, these populations have been struck disproportionately hard by the virus.
“The beginning of this year was definitely a challenge. I was a new nurse-practitioner trying to build my clinical foundation among a growing pandemic,” Schwab said. “At first, I thought, ‘I didn’t sign up for this,’ but with a little reflection, I realized this is exactly what I signed up for. I became an FNP to help those in need, and right now, helping our country face this virus is the best way to do that.”
Prior to COVID-19, Schwab’s work was split between the main health center and clinics Blue Ridge had set up in schools across the region. Her second role was shut down when schools in Hendersonville closed due to the pandemic. To continue supporting their community, Blue Ridge organized the school clinic staff to form a COVID-19 response team. In Schwab’s new role, she is on the front lines of COVID-19, providing walk-in screening and testing.
“Luckily, we have been well supplied with PPE and were able to quickly build a solid training program, so our COVID efforts rolled out pretty smoothly,” Schwab said. “We created a COVID triage in our parking lot where we screen all of our patients at the door. If someone is exhibiting COVID symptoms, we have the capability to see them outside. Because of our early efforts, we have probably been one of the most testing accessible facilities in Western North Carolina.”
Blue Ridge has also implemented telehealth appointments, which have been especially helpful to Hendersenville’s elderly population. Many of Schwab’s colleagues have also visited migrant farms and factories to conduct testing and contact tracing.
“Working with and for the whole population is incredibly important to me,” Schwab said. “I did a rotation at Blue Ridge during my clinical practicum with FNU, and immediately liked it. It has a mission very in-line with Frontier’s, which coincidentally is a mission I have been familiar with for most of my life. My mother used a nurse-midwife for all of her pregnancies, and because of that, I actually wrote a research paper on Mary Breckinridge when I was in middle school. I have always found her story extremely inspiring.”
Schwab works 8-12 hour days seeing anywhere between 20 and 30 patients of all ages. She says that she loves her job and is grateful to have the opportunity to affect so many lives.
“At Blue Ridge, we help underserved communities who often wouldn’t have access to healthcare without our clinic. I was led to healthcare through Mary Breckinridge’s story, and this is exactly the kind of work I want to be doing, especially during a pandemic,” Schwab said.