Katie Klatt.

Photo courtesy of Katie Klatt

Campus & Community

From patient to front lines

5 min read

M.P.H. student works with COVID-19 first responders at Boston EMS

Meet Katie Klatt — pediatric intensive care unit nurse, M.P.H. student at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, and recovered COVID-19 patient.

And, as of early April, a worker on the front lines of the pandemic.

Klatt is working as a nurse on the COVID-19 infection control team at Boston Emergency Medical Services. In that role, she helps look after first responders, monitoring their exposures, and caring for those who get sick.

“Boston EMS’ EMTs and paramedics are going out multiple times a day, every day,  treating and transporting patients, many of them sick with COVID-19,” she said. “It is amazing how brave they are. We want to be there to help them and look out for them.”

A PICU nurse since 2013, Klatt began her M.P.H.-65 in health management at Harvard Chan School in January, with the goal of moving into new roles in emergency preparedness and communications. In February she connected with Richard Serino — distinguished visiting fellow at Harvard’s National Preparedness Leadership Initiative, former Federal Emergency Management Agency administrator and former chief of Boston EMS — for a practicum experience on COVID-19 emergency preparedness and response. She helped Serino with tasks such as developing COVID-19-related communication strategies for businesses and relaying valid COVID-19 information to the public. But she felt that with her nursing background, she could do more.

Serino got in touch with some of his contacts at Boston EMS to see if they could use Klatt’s help. The answer was yes.

But before Klatt could start work, she got sick. “It was the Saturday before the end of spring break,” she said. “I’d been following the rules. I don’t know where I got it from.” She assumed it was coronavirus and planned to self-isolate, but after a week with a 103-degree fever, a doctor advised her over the phone to be checked in person.

“No urgent care places would take me,” she said. “I had to go to the ER but I didn’t have a way to get there. I had to walk half an hour with a fever — I didn’t want to call an ambulance and expose more people.”

She was diagnosed with COVID-19 as well as a sinus infection and possibly pneumonia, and prescribed an antibiotic. Over the next few days, friends helped out by bringing her food. Slowly, she got better.

“I had to go to the ER but I didn’t have a way to get there. I had to walk half an hour with a fever — I didn’t want to call an ambulance and expose more people.”

Katie Klatt

She was finally able to begin at Boston EMS on April 6. As part of a team of four doctors and three nurses, Klatt follows up with EMTs and paramedics to verify personal protective compliance, helps monitor their health, and supports their getting tested for COVID-19, if necessary. If they get sick, Klatt and her colleagues make sure the responders can isolate safely at home. If they can’t, they make arrangements for them to stay at a designated location identified for housing first responders. Sick personnel get daily check-ins as well as “peer support boxes” containing items such as thermometers, Tylenol, and Gatorade. “We try to make sure they have all the right supplies as they’re recuperating,” said Klatt.

Klatt said she’s been using skills in management and risk assessment that she’s been learning at Harvard Chan School to help Boston EMS streamline its workflow and create a protocol to follow in case there’s a second COVID-19 wave. “We’ve had multiple meetings where we talk about [how to make] decisions such as who gets sent for testing and who needs to leave work,” she said. “I’m pulling that all together into a new protocol to institutionalize current practice.”

Nancy Turnbull, senior associate dean for professional education, senior lecturer on health policy, and Klatt’s adviser, said, “She’s learning an enormous amount about public health. And the work is enabling her to make a contribution to the COVID response.”

Klatt is balancing her work at Boston EMS and her Harvard Chan School online classes. She’s also trying to keep a toe dipped into an internship she began in January with Vincere Health, a company that uses real-time rewards and behavioral nudges, via an app, to help people quit smoking. In a recent email featuring company news, Vincere leaders Shalen De Silva and Jake Keteyian wrote, “We are exceptionally proud of Katie Klatt, one of our interns. … She got COVID-19. She recovered yesterday. … Today she goes to work as a nurse on the front lines. Katie is the embodiment of our values and we salute her.”

“What I’m doing is helping, and it’s important, but the team at Boston EMS is dedicating so much more than I can even imagine, exposing themselves multiple times a day to save other people,” Klatt said. “They are incredibly brave.”