UK Nursing & COVID-19 series: Dr. Kim Blanton on Bringing Students Home

Posted: April 5, 2021

In March 2021, we officially passed the one-year mark from when the pandemic hit the University of Kentucky and dramatically changed our way of life. We are taking this opportunity to look back at some of the standout stories and people in our UK College of Nursing community who stepped up and inspired us during tough times. 

The below article was part of a COVID-19 feature series that was originally published in the 2020-21 Winter Edition of the UK College of Nursing's Engagement Magazine.  

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In January 2020, the first confirmed case of COVID-19 in Kentucky was still two months away. But the coronavirus had already changed life for Kimberly Blanton, DNP, MSN, MHA, RN, NE-BC (who also completed her doctoral degree through the University of Kentucky College of Nursing in August of 2020.)  

Tapped by Dr. Eric Monday and UK President Eli Capilouto’s Emergency Operations Center workgroup, the director for Infection Prevention & Control for UK HealthCare and the University of Kentucky had already begun reaching out to students who suddenly needed to come home to the United States after traveling internationally for their college work in countries like China, Italy and Iran.

For two months, Dr. Blanton called every one of the students, every day. “In the beginning, there were 15 or 20 students, and they just needed some support. It was scary, and they had so many questions. When I first touched base with many of the students, they hadn’t yet left the countries they were coming home from, and they were saying, ‘There’s no food here.’” The grocery stores were empty because of the pandemic.

When the students returned to Kentucky, they’d be immediately isolated and quarantined for 14 days. While many struggled emotionally and physically, Dr. Blanton was the one person they could count on hearing from. Every day.

By March, hundreds of students were returning from abroad, and their daily check-ins were made via computer. But by then, Kentucky’s first positive COVID patient had been hospitalized at UK HealthCare, and Dr. Blanton’s work in the hospital caring for other members of the community was intensifying. Her staff tracked down sources for PPE. They made sure someone was available around the clock to answer questions.

“I’ve been in the infection control director role for seven years, and we’ve lived through Ebola, and we lived through H1N1, a bad flu season. Nothing compares to the way this has changed what we do here.”

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