Q&A with Axiom Onsite Team Leader Kay Hayes: The Other Side of Testing
Hayes discussed her journey in the healthcare industry, what a typical day at work looks like and her plans for the future.
With the start of the winter term seeing the omicron variant surge across campus, COVID-19 testing — which the College conducts through a partnership with Axiom Medical — has become an ever-present part of most Dartmouth students’ weekly routines.
This week, The Dartmouth sat down with Kay Hayes, an Axiom Onsite Team Leader who has been working in medical services for the last 25 years, to talk about testing on the other side of the nasal swab. At Dartmouth, Hayes has been a presence both in the testing lines and in test processing.
When did you first start working for Axiom and how did your journey lead you to Hanover?
KH: It’s been 14 months that I’ve been with Axiom. I made a year in November, and it’s kind of funny how I started. COVID-19 had just happened, and the urgent care facility I worked for as a team leader at the time had just closed. I was at work, and at 1:30 pm I got a phone call to close the doors at 6:30 pm and to never open again. I had a staff of ten people at the time, and I care about whoever I work with, and it was crazy, you know. How do you tell these people now that they have no job?
I started working, providing companionship to the elderly. I serviced three to four people that were in their 90s, and that was a blessing to me, to be able to get them back on their feet. I attempted to go back into urgent care — and I don’t think I even made it 30 days due to the stress of the pandemic — and then Axiom called.
I was like ‘okay, I need something new.’ So this was my new, and they placed me on movie productions in Atlanta. When I got my first assignment I honestly asked several times a day ‘are you sure this is all you want me to do?’ because I was so used to moving around 14 hours a day.
I first came to Hanover in January or February of last year. I can remember when I first came — and some students probably remember me on the staff — I would just say ‘make sure you walk outside and get some sunshine, even if it’s only for a minute.’ We just want to make you smile, if nothing else, to get through the day.
What does a typical day look like while working here at Dartmouth?
KH: My current site assignment is 4 Currier Place, for the processing. My team is making sure that the tests are processed and ready to go out to the lab, and just ensuring that whatever is dropped is processed that day so that we can get results and keep moving.
Are there any other tips or advice you might want to give students or Dartmouth staff that would make the process easier for you?
KH: First and foremost, Dartmouth as well as Axiom has streamlined every avenue of this. Keep in mind that change happens, so we want to make sure that we are being present to whatever email notifications are coming out.
Axiom and Dartmouth have provided test kits, and we want to make sure that students have those. Make sure you pick up your labels as well. I know a lot of people don’t want to make the walk, but we run into people writing on the bags and sometimes we can’t understand the writing, so that’s a delay.
The other thing that we run into is that we get everything ready, but the student didn’t actually use the swab, so now I have an empty vial. Again, we have 17 dropboxes across campus to make it convenient, so it’s not too much of a hassle.
I’ve had numerous cases where two tests were dated for the same day. One of those is going to get tossed — we can’t send two out on the same day — so just those small things would help a long way.
Before becoming the Onsite Team Leader, you were a Health Safety Assistant during the last academic year. How has that transition been, especially now, given that we’re in a stage of the pandemic with omicron? Do you have to make sure that your team is following any extra safety precautions?
KH: Specifically for the last week, I’ve been walking around to my team, saying ‘you have no gloves on, let’s go,’ or ‘make sure your mask is up.’ It’s very important. We can’t stress it enough, honestly, because we are in contact. In a world like we’re in right now, there is nothing in place for us healthcare workers besides ‘make sure you wear your PPE’ and ‘make sure you’re vaccinated.’
I’ll be the first to be honest and say that I did not want to be vaccinated. I am vaccinated now. I watched close family members pass away and saw many friends become very sick with COVID, so I will first and foremost encourage my team to be vaccinated if they’re not, as well as making sure that they have their booster.
We always wear appropriate PPE when testing. When coming in close contact, we are gowned, we are with face shields, we are with gloves, we are with N95 masks.
When this is all over, if the pandemic calms down, what are your plans for the future? Do you plan to continue working in the health services industry, or is there anything else you envision yourself doing?
KH: So, when that happens — this is coming to an end — medical services are in my blood. I don’t know how to do anything else. It comes too naturally. If I see an accident, even to this day, I’m running to be of assistance. I don’t know how to turn it off.
I do have other goals — I would love to have a food truck. It’s very different from what I’m currently doing. What I call it is ‘vending,’ because I don’t want to be considered a caterer. A caterer has to do decorating and all that stuff. I don’t want to do that; I just want to cook!
And so it’s a bit of a big transition, but it’s still providing a type of health service. With my change of eating habits, I know how to do that for others. I can’t let my medical career go, but that’s something I look forward to doing.
Are there any final thoughts that you’d like to share with the Dartmouth community?
KH: In terms of the testing process, I think it’s crucial to reiterate that you want to make sure that you are doing the proper swabbing techniques and taking your time. It’s not a rush! We are providing the kits to you to do them at home, so please take that as time to do it. This is not a one minute test, this is a two-or-three minute process.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.