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Feature story: Health is functioning remotely

While most of the faculty is deserted, a few selected people maintain critical functions in the buildings. The vast majority of employees take care of their daily tasks and find new solutions from makeshift home offices.


Although Health’s IT supporters are normally occupied by a different sort of virus, IT staff are busy with the corona emergency response procedures. The IT Unit provides support that makes it possible for the faculty's employees to work remotely.

"We’re keeping a close eye on all of the platforms that currently have many more users than usual. In particular platforms for working remotely, videoconferencing and distance learning. We monitor whether they’re close to overload so we can take action in time. For example, during the first twenty-four hours of the quarantine, it was already clear that the university's VPN servers didn’t have enough capacity to support the big increase in activity. This issue was resolved by upgrading to five times the VPN capacity, so the load is now at 25-30 per cent," says Mads Rasmussen, Health's IT support manager, as he gets ready for a meeting with the entire department via Skype for Business. 

Most things are on back order

Most questions to the IT department are on accessing various IT systems, but at the moment people are also asking for laptops, headsets and webcams for their home workstations. Most of this is on back order because it is made in China. Getting other equipment ordered via the IT Unit actually delivered is also an issue, as the IT supporters do not have access to their buildings and cannot accept and sort the normal deliveries. Mads Rasmussen is currently attempting to find a solution so that IT Support can pick up the goods directly from e.g. GLS, and then pass them on to Health's employees via some type of sluice system that keeps people physically apart while items are collected.

While the faculty's employees are trying to adapt to the new situation, hackers are trying to profit from it. With so many people working from home, the number of phishing emails has exploded with the aim of getting employees to reveal passwords, data or simply get money out of them. However, Mads Rasmussen remains optimistic – provided everyone remembers to critically assess all the emails they receive.

Continued service to the police force

The faculty’s northernmost location is the Department of Forensic Medicine and according to Department Head Christian Lindholst, it is deathly quiet.

“Most people are working from home as instructed. Normally we’re seventy people in the building, so we notice the difference,” he says in an empty department.

The department serves the police and the prosecution service, and here it is business as usual. People who are arrested and charged with crimes still need to be examined by forensic scientists as part of the investigation, and autopsies are carried out whenever one is requisitioned. For the same reason, the department has established an emergency response team with two teams of doctors, laboratory technicians, chemists, technicians and secretarial staff working at staggered times. “The goal is to use this physical separation to keep the emergency response running, and the two other forensic medical departments in Denmark use a similar staffing model," says Christian Lindholst.

Extra hand disinfectant

One of the department's tasks is to examine living people, either because they have been in some way attacked or abused or because they are charged with a crime. Forensic pathologists already use gloves and surgical masks during examinations, but procedures have been further tightened to limit any possible corona contamination, says deputy state-appointed forensic pathologist Ole Ingemann Hansen.

"We now ask about people’s well-being and travel history. We’re already in a situation where we don’t shake hands, but we still take oral swabs and are therefore in close contact with the person," he says.

Even though the forensic pathologists have access to visors, aprons and other types of protective equipment, these are not yet relevant for examining people.

"Like the healthcare sector as a whole, we continue to monitor developments and adapt our own practice. Thus far we’re managing by using extra hand disinfection," says Ole Ingemann Hansen.

Head start on streaming

The Department of Clinical Medicine was the first to cancel physical lectures and classroom instruction for Master's students on the medical degree programme in the shadow of the corona virus. This happened before the government sent all Danish students home, explains studies secretary at the Department of Clinical Medicine, Lise W. Licht.

Studies Secretary Lise Licht from the Department of Clinical Medicine manages cancellations and distance learning from her office at home.

"It feels like three years ago, but I think it was Tuesday morning last week when my colleague and I were faced with the completely chaotic task of cancelling and restructuring six semesters worth of theoretical teaching into something completely digital – and of course preferably by the day after tomorrow! Now we’re at the point where we think hit with it, we’ll find a solution,” says Lise W. Licht, whose temporary workstation is currently the dining table at home, which she shares with her son and husband.

"We were helped by the fact that we at Clinical Medicine have already experimented with streaming lectures on four of the six semesters. These video recordings have been uploaded on Blackboard, knowing full-well that the quality fluctuates. but that’s not important in a critical situation like this," she says.

Crisis leads to constructive solutions

Some lectures are streamed from rooms in the basement and at Incuba, where the model consists of a lecturer, a student in the role of e-moderator and a technical back-up from the department's IT department, who makes sure the camera is facing the right way and that the chat is working. The same principle of simplicity applies to virtual classroom instruction, which can often be done with a home recording using the teaching program Zoom.

"Our teaching staff are also medical doctors at the hospital, so now’s not the time to introduce them to advanced e-learning. It just needs to work, and it does. I believe we’ll look back and think how exciting this time also was because it taught us to find quick, constructive solutions," says Lise W. Licht. Her immediate supervisor, Head of Secretariat Linda Ibsen, agrees.

"I'm pleased that the senior management team has also acknowledged the efforts the Department of Clinical Medicine has delivered in the educational area. We’ve been called a trailblazing secretariat in terms of streaming, and I think our employees should be proud of that," says Linda Ibsen.

Rodents and pigs still being fed

At the Department of Clinical Medicine, the surgical research laboratories, including the Påskehøjgaard, are closed down until and including 27 March. But though both animal experiments and courses have been cancelled, there are still rodents and pigs that need feeding and tending to. According to Head Veterinarian Birgitte Kousholt, things are running smoothly.

"Of course, it's all about having a good team of animal technicians who are ready to take responsibility and who understand the seriousness of the situation,” says Birgitte Kousholt from her workplace at home.

"At the moment, we’ve got one employee in the rodent facilities at Skejby and one looking after the pigs at Påskehøjgaard, but we’ve got a flexible duty roster that takes account of how things can change from day to day. Everyone really understands the need for flexibility, even though some people have children at home from an institution and school," she says, before proving her point by shouting ‘it hasn’t rung yet,' to her children who are doing their home schooling in the background.

Rationed visits to the animal facility in the Skou Building

Flexibility is also the key factor in one of the university's other laboratory animal facilities in the basement below the Skou Building. When the rector announced the closing down of the university, veterinarian and head of the laboratory animal facilities at the Department of Biomedicine, Jakob le Fèvre Harslund, was a very busy man as facilities were closed down, researchers were informed about the changes and only absolutely necessary visits to the facilities were arranged.

"This is a completely extraordinary situation that places extraordinary demands on everyone’s flexibility and understanding," says Jakob le Fèvre Harslund, who explains that all transport of

animals has been stopped. No new animals are being bought, and similarly, no animals are being delivered to studies in other locations.

The animals are cared for as normal so none of them notice any difference.

"We’re used to working under strict guidelines about preventing the spread of viruses and bacteria. So we’re well prepared in that way," says Jakob le Fèvre Harslund.

Hundreds of patient appointments cancelled

At the Department of Dentistry and Oral Health, the Department Head Siri Beier Jensen asserts that even in the midst of the gigantic jigsaw puzzle involving patient cancellations at the dental clinics and in research projects, and establishing emergency plans and reorganising teaching, there is tremendous support all around the department and a will to make sure they succeed.

"I’m impressed by our employees dedication to getting the department and the teaching up and running again. Late Friday afternoon a lecturer on the dental surgery assistant programme wrote that she’d prepared assignments that the students could work on from home – and had added that she’d ‘become really gripped by distance learning'J’,” says Siri Beier Jensen.

The first few days were spent getting an overview of ongoing courses of treatment and systematically cancelling hundreds of patients who are being treated at teaching clinics by the 650 students on the six degree programmes. All patients who are involved in clinical research projects have also received cancellations in the hope that the research projects can be resumed without serious consequences once the crisis is over.

Count on me if I can assist

Ongoing maintenance work is being done in the clinics, even though there are no patients in the dentist’s chairs. For example, several hundred dental units must be rinsed thoroughly with disinfectant liquid daily, even when not in use, so that the department complies with the national infectious hygiene guidelines.


The cat keeps the rector's speech company. Siri Beier Jensen's home office

"Now that the patient side of things is in place, focus is really on re-establishing the teaching on the many degree programmes at the department," says Siri Beier Jensen and elaborates:

"Right now, the lecturers are working around the clock to develop new digital and student-activating forms of instruction, so despite the circumstances, we’re fortunate that many of our teaching staff have just been on a comprehensive course programme in entrepreneurship-orientated didactics," she explains.

She is also proud and pleased to see so many employees write that they are available, for example to cover emergency treatment. As an international employee wrote: “Count on me if I can assist in any manner. We move on strong, from home, via Skype, and using all tools to make sure AU and the department keep going on!”

An impressive level of goodwill and great efforts

In Egå, outside of Aarhus, the head of the Department of Public Health is managing the department from his workplace at home. Or at least trying to. His initial focus has been and remains on informing employees on an ongoing basis and being available via telephone and email. And things are beginning to calm down in the new reality.

The Department of Public Health's command centre is now located in Egå. After only a few days, Ole Bækgaard found that the new situation was impressively well-organised

The department's buildings at the bottom of the University Park, in Emdrup and on Dalgas Avenue have been vacated, and the employees are installed at home – some with children on the sidelines, others with additional duties in the hospital or in general practice.

"Everyone is doing what they can to get the teaching up and running so that the students don't get too far behind, and in some places, we were able to hold virtual lectures already on Monday morning, for example with associate professor Dorte Rytter's epidemiology lectures. It's crazy that we succeeded in doing that in just two working days after all hell broke loose, and I'm very impressed with the goodwill and efforts of the employees," says Ole Bækgaard.

In addition to working hard on distance learning, the department's employees are currently working to complete or at least introduce a hiatus in the various clinical trials in a responsible manner. This is not as simple as it could sound and there are trial participants who need to be taken into consideration.

Muscle biopsies postponed

Associate Professor Mette Hansen, who carries out research into diet and exercise, is responsible for a number of research projects involving trial participants. One of the studies that she has stopped due to the corona situation is a trial with older men who have a muscle biopsy taken after taking insect protein, pea protein and whey protein.

Mette Hansen shares her home office with 5-year old Mathilde

"Continuing was simply not justifiable, even though we might have been able to find a pragmatic temporary solution or have resumed the experiment at a later time. The elderly are particularly vulnerable right now, so we need to take extra care of them."

Back with Ole Bækgaard, the emails and phone calls continue. There is enough to be getting on with, and employees' work from home must still be supported.

"We've just finalised a plan for maintenance of our local biobanks, that’s to say all of our freezers. Our laboratory technicians supervise them in that they’re on call if something goes wrong. We also have employees in Greenland and in Africa and we’re in the process of finding solutions for them," says the department head, before sitting down to his next Skype meeting which this time is the daily meeting with the extended management team at the faculty.

Building services turns off the lights and locks the doors

When hundreds of Health employees left their laboratories and offices on Wednesday afternoon, they didn't know that it would be weeks before they returned again. Since then, HE Building Services have walked the empty corridors and deserted lecture theatres to safeguard the operation of the most critical facilities and to shut down everything else.

Conor Leerhøy, head of the department, has four men on campus, and they will soon finish checking and shutting down everything they can.

"Normally, we’re quickly notified if a problem occurs in one of the buildings, but right now all our eyes and ears have been sent home. So we’ve got a huge task on our hands with shutting every done that can be shut down, while also physically checking and keeping an eye on the many square metres that we have and making sure that everything is as it should be,” says Conor Leerhøy.

His focus is on minimising the university's costs for e.g. electricity, heat and ventilation at a time like this. Therefore, he and his employees are always on the lookout for radiators or ventilation systems that can be shut down as they walk through the buildings.

No bumping into colleagues

However, not everything can be turned off. For example, in the Skou Building there is full technical operation in the laboratory animal facilities. In addition, building services has to receive deliveries ordered before the quarantine and ensure that liquid nitrogen is added to cells which are stored in the cryogenic tanks.

The department uses duty rosters to ensure that colleagues do not bump into each other and do not overlap.

"It's really important to take things as they come at the moment, because the situation changes hourly, and it’s not like anything we've ever tried before," says Conor Leerhøy.