When Cindy Striano thinks back over the past 13 months of the pandemic, she knows a silver lining has been the teamwork with her co-workers. “It has been an amazing process to see,” says Striano, a registered nurse and Caldwell’s executive director of health services. “We’ve never collaborated like this before. This really puts the students’ best interest first.”
Since March of 2020 she has been working with the administration and Pandemic Response Team to implement a strong plan to ensure the health and safety of the campus community, reaching out to students to give them the help and guidance they need and learning all she can about the virus. She remembers one late night during the COVID-19 lockdown when she needed to make “one more call” to a student and her husband told her she would need a reasonable “cut-off” time for calling students at night. Not so easy during a COVID-19 pandemic.
During the early weeks of the outbreak, Striano took an all-day contact tracing course with Johns Hopkins. “Medicine has always done contact tracing,” so that was not new, she explains, but there were specifics for this virus. Other employees also took the course. “I had to learn to give up a little control and allow others to help with doing the contact tracing,” says Striano. “I wanted everyone to be assured that positive cases were managed through a thoughtful process.”
She is proud of how the Caldwell community has met the challenges in following the public health guidance and how she and her team have worked with the Health Department in Bloomfield. “The only way this works is when everyone takes personal responsibility.” She points to proof that the process is working. “That’s clear because we have had such a great response as far as our caseload and minimal outbreaks.” She gives credit to the students who have had to quarantine. “They have done it and understand how important it is to do it.”
Before coming to Caldwell, Striano worked as a charge nurse on a hospital floor, in an operating room, in hospital administration and in private practice. When she began at Caldwell, her office was in Mother Joseph Residence Hall and she worked from 4 to 9 two nights a week. She was nine months pregnant and had a 3-year-old at home. Those two “kids” are now in the medical profession, her daughter as a dentist and her son an orthopedic surgeon.
Striano is energized by the university atmosphere and the college age community. “Students are smart, mature and there is also a lot of room for learning how to care for themselves.” In addition to the COVID-19 responsibilities, Striano manages the care of students who are ill or injured and the overall wellness of the campus community, which includes health education and making sure students have proper immunizations. “We don’t bend the rules. We stay pretty firm to those for everybody.” The results show, she says, since Caldwell has not had the measles and meningitis cases some other campuses have faced. “We have been fortunate.”
Striano’s goal is for students to graduate well versed in how to access health care and give themselves the best care to stay well. It is her nature to want to do it for others, but when it comes to students who are patients, she believes in helping them learn by letting them walk through the steps themselves. “I often have to remind myself that what is best for them is for me to teach them how to care for themselves when ill so that going forward they will have an understanding of how to seek good health care as a consumer.”
“Going forward” is something she thinks about quite a bit these days—going forward and out of the pandemic. Beyond the public health measures, many important lessons have been learned. Seeing how faculty and staff in different departments work together and trust each other reminds her that Caldwell is a community. “I have always known that … but to have survived this and worked so collaboratively is the best example we will ever see of how this community can work together and survive anything.” And that, she believes, will stick long after masks come off and people can sit up close to each other. “There have been bridges built that will never come down.”