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Tuesday, January 19, 2021
The independent student publication of The Unversity at Buffalo, since 1950

UB student forced into quarantine even though she is not sick

Accessibility Resources’ pleas did not help get her out. For the student, Campus Living says that they can’t do anything once Student Health Services makes a decision.

<p>After selecting she had a fever on the daily health check, Lauren Bilancia says she was forced into quarantine and, during her time there, considered self harm</p>

After selecting she had a fever on the daily health check, Lauren Bilancia says she was forced into quarantine and, during her time there, considered self harm

Lauren Bilancia clicked the wrong answer on her daily health check. 

The mistake landed the junior psychology major in UB’s Flickinger Court apartments for quarantine which exacerbated her anxiety and left her feeling friendless and like she “might die in there.” She even considered self harm. 

She tried to explain to UB what had happened, that it was all a mistake and that she suffers from mental health issues that make quarantine detrimental. She had a migraine when she did the health check and hit the wrong answer. She did not have COVID symptoms.

But, she says, Campus Living would not listen to her and stuck with its protocol, even after Accessibility Resources tried to argue her case. Her suffering, she said, meant little to Campus Living. They cared more about protocol, she said, than about her mental health.

“I’m very anxious and depressed, and I can’t be left alone [like I was] and my concerns were ignored,” Bilancia said. “My friends were even talking about [what would happen] if someone else [with similar] circumstances were put through that again?”

She said Campus Living did nothing to check on her or give her special attention after representatives learned of her mental health issues. When she called to say she was panicked, it took two days for anyone from Campus Living to respond. When someone did, the person did not know where Bilancia was on campus. 

Campus Living could not speak directly to The Spectrum about Bilancia’s case, but defends its policies. 

Thomas Tiberi, the director of Campus Living, wrote in an email to The Spectrum that only Student Health Services has the authority to decide what should be done when a student says she should not be quarantined. 

“The final determination in matters like this will be from the medical staff at Student Health Services. If special considerations need to be made from an accessibility standpoint, we would work to accommodate students while still following the established quarantine protocol,” Tiberi wrote.

Tiberi also wrote that if students or faculty make a mistake on the daily health check, they can immediately retake it to overwrite the previous submitted form.

“We are working on a way to effectively communicate this to students,” Tiberi wrote. “[But] if a student doesn’t do that or the software doesn’t allow for that for some reason, we are confirming their answers when we call them before initiating the quarantine protocol.”

Bilancia’s ordeal began Oct. 21, when, after suffering a 24-hour migraine, she accidentally clicked that she was “feeling feverish or had a fever.” 

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The next day, she got a call from an assistant director in Campus Living, Craig Orcholski, saying she had to quarantine. According to Bilancia, Orcholski oversees everything for quarantine right now, but he was not the one who made the final decision on her situation. Student Health Services also would not speak directly to The Spectrum about Bilancia’s case, but Paula Taton, a registered nurse and the clinic manager, wrote in an email to The Spectrum that both Student Health Services and Campus Living make the final decision.

“Health Services works closely with Campus Living in determining if a student needs to be quarantined or isolated,” Taton wrote. “Both departments follow the guidelines from the local and state health departments, as well as the CDC.”

The Spectrum has also contacted the associate director of Accessibility Resources, Kristin Harte, for a comment. Harte would not personally comment on the situation but referred The Spectrum to an email statement from UB on the matter. 

UB’s statement also would not comment on a specific situation, but it did confirm that a student could immediately retake the daily health check to overwrite a previous form. It was written that if a student or faculty member indicates that they are symptomatic, UB must “thoroughly investigate the situation.”

“UB students, faculty and staff are asked to quarantine for a variety of reasons, including if they have indicated that they are symptomatic or have had close contact with someone who has tested positive,” UB wrote. “The university understands that quarantining is difficult, especially for students uprooted from their studies when they may be experiencing illness or are waiting for test results. However, it is a critical part of UB’s health and safety guidelines. Staff from Campus Living and other units are working around the clock to ensure students’ needs are met during these trying times.”

By Oct. 23, Bilancia was in quarantine in Flickinger Court apartments, where she stayed for six days. She said Accessibility Resources knows about her mental health issues and Harte, who worked with Bilancia during the entire situation, tried repeatedly to come to an agreement with Campus Living on her behalf. But, Bilancia says, Campus Living still forced her into isolation.

Bilancia expected to leave Monday, Oct. 26 after being told her quarantine would last three to four days. But she had to wait for her COVID results, which took more time. Balancia says she became “increasingly depressed” and as a result, went into a “downward spiral” during quarantine.

“All this time, I felt increasingly lonely and I was struggling to get stuff done for school. I struggled with homework assignments and a midterm, and one of the days I could barely sit in my classes,” Bilancia said. “I was starting to exhibit slight self-harm behaviors. I was starting to just scratch at myself and pick at my skin. I remember calling my mom at several points and begging her to somehow get me out of there because I almost felt like I might die in there.”

Even after she explained her mental health issues, no one came to check on her or provide her with extra services, she said. 

The only time Bilancia is required to be on campus is for marching band and choir and both departments have enforced COVID rules and regulations. 

Campus Living told Bilancia to arrange an online meeting with a doctor at Student Health Services. Theresa Betz, a certified Family Nurse Practitioner, helped Bilancia arrange it.

“I get a call almost immediately from one nurse who was very understanding, and she was like, ‘That sounds kind of dumb. Well, I’m sure if you just explain it to the doctor that you see, I’m sure everything will be fine. Don’t worry about it,’” Bilancia said.

But when Bilancia met with the doctor at 1 p.m. over an online meeting through PatientLink and explained what happened, the doctor said she cannot legally say Bilancia did not have COVID, and she was required to go into quarantine. The doctor spent seven minutes talking to her. 

“While I didn’t think of this at the moment, I should have asked to see someone in-person to be evaluated,” Bilancia said. “What I am most upset about with Student Health Services is that this doctor made a decision in seven minutes, and it came down to the legality of it, not whether or not I could possibly have it.”

One of Bilancia’s friends noticed that she was panicking and recommended calling  Accessibility Resources to see if they could help her. Harte called Campus Living on Bilancia’s behalf trying to prevent her from going into quarantine. Later that day, Harte called Bilancia and told her not to worry about moving out of her apartment, but that she would have to take a COVID test.

Campus Living called her again and said she still had to go into quarantine. Bilancia immediately called Harte back. Harte convened with the director of Accessibility Resources, Randy Borst, to argue Bilancia’s case.

Although Bilancia did not hear from Campus Living until the next day, Harte called Bilancia at around 7 p.m. to make sure she was okay.

“I feel like that was very important because she was not in her [work] hours and she did not have to, but she said she didn’t feel right leaving me hanging like that,” Bilancia said.

On Oct. 23, two days after she submitted the form, Campus Living called her back and told her she must quarantine. Bilancia immediately called Harte again.

Bilancia called Campus Living back to arrange everything. At first, Campus Living was going to put her in the quarantine dorms on South Campus.

“I cried. I freaked out because I knew that if they put me on South Campus, I was going to get sick. They were going to put someone who is not sick in an environment where there are sick people,” Bilancia said. “I don’t care how good you are at anything. There’s still that risk, and I was not willing to take it.”

Instead, Bilancia was put in a Flickinger Court apartment and given a COVID test. Her Campus Dining was closed, but her apartment monitors found leftovers from Goodyear Hall for her to have for dinner and the next day’s breakfast and lunch. Bilancia received a sandwich, a salad, a to-go Cheerios and milk, some fruit, a cup of applesauce and four water bottles. She says she was told she would get a case of water, but never received it.

After seeing the small portions and lack of food choices, Bilancia began ordering food on Doordash or Grubhub. 

During her first night at the apartment, around midnight, Bilancia heard knocking at her front door. She said she felt scared because she thought someone was breaking in and didn’t feel safe in her new environment.

On Oct. 24, Bilancia called Campus Living in the morning and left a voicemail saying that she felt unsafe and anxious, and that she recently had a panic attack. When her caseworker from Campus Living, Frank Tierney, called at about 5:30 p.m., he said that he didn’t even know where Bilancia was located. Campus Living didn’t call her back until Monday, Oct. 26. 

“If you’re going to have people in a completely separate location, people need to know that they are there. If anything happened to me, no one knew where I was and no one checked on me in person,” Bilancia said. “It was terrifying to know that if I did anything to myself or if anything happened to me, that was it. No one was going to find me or come to help me.”

On Wednesday, Oct. 28, Bilancia received a call from Campus Living saying her test came back negative and she was allowed to leave. 

“I think it was an egregious lapse in judgement, and I honestly think a lot of it could have been avoided if they actually let me see an actual doctor in-person,” Bilancia said. “Or if they just let me stay in my apartment. I do have three roommates, but by the time they moved me, three days had already gone by. If this were actually important, they would have done something [sooner], but they just showed me that they didn’t really care.” 

Anastasia Wilds is an assistant arts editor and can be reached at anastasia.wilds@ubspectrum.com and on Twitter @AnastasiaWilds


ANASTASIA WILDS

Anastasia Wilds is an asst. arts editor.

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