For a mother and son, the buildings of WashU Olin Business School now hold new meaning. For one, they’ll become her office space someday—for the other, they’re acting as a temporary home.
Jaya Bhat’s first day on the job at WashU Olin was normal in many ways. She isn’t new to the campus, having worked at WashU from 2014 to 2019 in various roles and having sent her son here for his undergraduate studies. But since starting her job March 25 as an HR/payroll associate for Olin, she hasn’t been able to set foot inside our buildings.
The entire time Jaya has worked for Olin, we’ve been operating remotely in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Meanwhile, while Jaya has had to stay away from Olin’s spaces, her son has gotten to know them well: He’s staying at the Knight Center.
Her son, on call
Dr. Adithya Bhat, AB ’10, is an anesthesiologist and WashU instructor. He’s seen his day-to-day reality change significantly throughout the crisis. Typically, he’s focused on elective surgery and obstetric anesthesia.. Now, Adithya’s responsibilities include caring for COVID-19 patients.
And as the coronavirus pandemic rages, the Charles F. Knight Center for Executive Education has opened its doors to house healthcare workers who need quick access to Barnes-Jewish Hospital and other area hospitals and must self-quarantine to avoid exposing loved ones to the virus they’re facing every day.
“One of our important roles as anesthesiologists is performing intubation, or placing breathing tubes,” he explains.
And for Adithya, part of social distancing means distancing himself from friends and family and staying at the Knight Center. He says it’s been a surreal experience “being here so many years after my undergraduate studies in such very different circumstances,” but he’s grateful to be back and staying safe.
Adjusting to a new normal
“I know the entire WashU Olin community is delighted that we can provide a small measure of comfort and convenience to the healthcare workers on the front lines of this battle,” said Olin Dean Mark P. Taylor, referring to the decision to house clinicians at Knight Center. “More than anything, we want them to be safe and cared for while they’re doing the hard work of treating those who are sickened in the pandemic.”
Working in the dean’s office, Jaya has tried to maintain a sense of normalcy. “I got all dressed up on my first day with the excitement of a new job, despite knowing the commute was only a few steps to my desk,” she said.
And the experience has been rewarding thus far. She’s grateful for the warm welcome she’s had from Dean Taylor and her team, who hold daily Zoom calls.
“I am excited to meet my coworkers in person for the first time—the people I have been zooming with almost daily. I’m really looking forward to this—even more than the actual physical workplace.”
The COVID-19 reality up close
Until that can happen, Adithya strongly advocates that people take social distancing seriously after observing first-hand the way this virus can affect people who were previously healthy. “The best way to defeat this virus,” he said, “is to not be infected in the first place.”
“Because of my exposure risk,” Adithya said, “it’s important to me that I distance myself from my loved ones. The Knight Center provides the perfect accommodations for myself and other clinicians to live comfortably.”
Jaya is grateful that her son’s staying in her future place of work, too. While she worries for his safety, she said, “it makes me proud that he is there, doing his very best to help people get better.” And staying at the Knight Center relieves some of her fears.
This is an impossibly difficult time for the Bhat family, just like it is for so many families across the world. But the Bhats find hope in their community—which includes the Olin family.
“Every medical professional out there on the front line is tirelessly doing their very best to help patients,” she said. “They focus on each patient with the same care and attention.”
Adithya hopes the Knight Center staff knows of his and his fellow clinicians’ gratitude. “The staff have all been incredibly kind and accommodating. I’m optimistic that we will weather the storm together, and it’s an honor to serve the community during its time of need.”
And as to the special connection he now has to Olin, “I think it’s fantastic that my mom will eventually be working in the same building when the pandemic has finally quieted down,” he says. “I’ll know just where to meet her for an afternoon coffee!”