The Frontier community is proud to have students and alumni serving on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic. Throughout the next few weeks, we are committed to sharing their stories in order to provide insight, hope and encouragement. Thank you to all the health care workers who are risking their own well-being daily to serve our nation. Click here to read more stories of courage and dedication.
Frontier Nursing University alumni Steven Benso works as a family nurse practitioner at Allegheny Health Network (AHN) in Pittsburgh, Pa. Benso’s office within the Health Network is the headquarters for pilot programs focused on community outreach. In response to COVID-19, AHN’s newest program sends a mobile unit to underserved communities throughout the city, and Benso has been along for the ride.
In more typical times, Benso provides primary and urgent care through health exams and directs patients on best health practices. When asked to serve in the new mobile unit, he quickly dove into the opportunity to provide outreach and healthcare education to his community.
Through the outreach program, the mobile units drive to underserved neighborhoods surrounding Pittsburgh to better assess the impact of COVID-19 in these areas. While there, the healthcare workers provide swab testing and connect individuals and families with local personal care providers (PCP). The AHN team also checks in to see if anyone is struggling to feed themselves or their families or would benefit from speaking with a financial support person.
Benso also participates in seven drive-through testing sites provided by AHN throughout the Pittsburgh area. Additionally, Benso’s group provides telehealth services to the elderly and others who may be at a higher risk for COVID-19 complications.
As COVID-19 spread, AHN quickly implemented further health precautions to keep their staff and patients healthy.
“At a minimum, we wear facemasks around our co-workers no matter what,” Benso said. “When we see patients, we also put on a face shield. If we go into a room with a suspected COVID patient or are going to be swabbing at our drive-through or mobile van, we wear N95 masks, face shields, and gowns.”
As a nurse practitioner, Benso is used to wearing PPE around patients and was prepared for the additional precautions that came with a pandemic. However, being in the medical field during the crisis has dictated changes in his personal life that have been more difficult.
“My wife is currently pregnant, so to keep her and the baby safe, along with our three other children, I often wear a mask at home,” Benso said. “Additionally, we have avoided contact with all people socially aside from my in-laws who quarantine for two weeks before visiting.”
Although the pandemic has had huge effects on all aspects of Benso’s life, he says he still loves his career choice, and his sacrifices are all just part of the job.
“Being a provider during a pandemic carries similar responsibilities, but more intense and purposeful commitment. It is not enough to want to care for the community and the world and then to go home and live recklessly without a mask or traveling to hot spots on vacation. I try to carry a burden for the community, even for those who are not doing what they are supposed to,” Benso said.
The rise in misinformation during the pandemic has been a constant source of frustration for Benso, but he continues to do his best each day to turn the narrative in the right direction.
“Medical literacy is very poor in this country. When that is paired with misinformation and political turmoil, we, unfortunately, have a lot of people hesitant to follow basic healthcare precautions,” Benso said. “So many people are simply misinformed. I work to change that, using every opportunity I have with patients to educate them on the realities of COVID.”
As the pandemic continues to rage, another aspect of care that Benso continues to talk to his patients about is mental health, a priority that he realized while studying at FNU.
“Frontier has always been a supportive program with instructors who are sympathetic and empathetic to their patients. I truly believe my social responsibility and empathy were enhanced at Frontier University,” Benso said. “With Frontier, I continue to be surrounded by selfless, caring individuals around the country. Serving next to them is the highest honor. Although working during COVID-19 has its challenges, my career as a nurse practitioner could not be more fulfilling. I am so grateful that I made the choice to venture into healthcare and that I chose Frontier as my guide.”