A crisis such as the COVID-19 pandemic and its multi-dimensional impact plays a crucial role in not only activating but also increasing collaboration among organizations with a vested interest in the common good. Through an ongoing research, the Network for Regional Healthcare Improvement (NRHI), and research partner, Qualidigm, have identified numerous examples of networks supporting off-site COVID-19 testing centers.
The research began with a focus on collaborations that include established organizations that provide public health testing supports. However, respondents also identified the involvement of less traditional organizations. Below we have segmented the groups into traditional and non-traditional testing organizations.
Obvious and expected collaborations: from federal agencies to grassroot community organizations
• Neighboring health care providers
In his interview (LINK to BLOG 1), Dr. Dustin Calhoun, clinical advisor to the OSCTC project, expressed hope that the competitions between healthcare providers that were put aside and the newly formed collaborations and partnerships in the face of the pandemic, would become a new normal in providing healthcare.
• National Guard and military affiliated teams
The National Guard and military affiliated teams have been described as “lifesavers” that have “stepped up” in critical situations. Some of the OSCTCs would “send a portable lab out to sites to be able to do kind of military grade testing of items.”
• Department of Public Health (DPH)
Involving the Department of Health can be helpful with mitigating concerns regarding competition and aligning with state public health priorities. As one participant said, “cut out the hospital system and go directly to Departments of Public Health… we needed the Department of Health to come and visit us and give us their blessing so we could open it.” Another participant reiterated, “I think the first success we experienced was [creating] good relationships with the Department of Health. Right, engaging them early and often was the key to our success.” With the expansion of OSCTCs and the addition to more mobile units, the DPHs not only “approved [the] general approach and format” of the mobile units, but they also facilitated testing of populations “that are underserved or harder to get to.”
• Grassroots organizations: Community health workers and social justice/advocacy groups
Community organizations, advocacy groups, and community health workers who have built trust and strong connections within their communities have been invaluable support for OSCTCs. One respondent said that “the community health boards from the different communities have been extremely helpful in terms of providing guidance to make sure we are culturally sensitive in getting the word out.” Another respondent goes into more details of how social justice groups helped them:
“A lot of folks in our Latinx community don’t go to our county website and they don’t listen to our local radio station. They have their own networks and things that they listen to. So, we had to work with a lot of the social justice groups and advocacy groups to really form an understanding on how to reach out to this population.”
• Visiting Nurses Association (VNA) and EMS
Visiting nurses and emergency medical services can also reach populations that are hard to access for different reasons. Many of these connections existed prior to the pandemic – participants noted; “we had good relationships already built with them [VNAs]” and “a lot of our EMS programs are tied into our mobile integrated health programs.” The expanded needs for off-site testing showed where visiting nurses could directly contribute to testing and tracking of the COVID-19 virus: “So, if we had folks who were homebound and couldn’t make it to any of our testing sites because of whatever reason, we partnered up and trained our VNA agencies to [deliver] one-on-one testing for individuals who couldn’t leave their homes.”
A few respondents pointed that they have been working with volunteer organizations to “help with paperwork and sorting of data, before, during and after people were tested… they can take care of a lot of the lift of the administrative issues.”
Amazon, local businesses, and artists are a few of the non-traditional collaborators leading to positive outcomes for off-site testing centers. Actively seeking collaborations with individuals and organizations outside the health and healthcare field benefited not only those who worked at OSCTCs, but also the populations they were trying to reach. In one case, a participant shared, “a couple that lives in county and has some sort of business initially donated tens of thousands of pieces of units of PPE to us.” Another OSCTC partnered with Amazon to provide positive testing results and follow-up with symptomatic patients via test messaging. Collaborations with local artists also proved useful for OSCTCs:
“In line with utilizing our local resources, as artists, we had [city] theatre and [city] television bring together a group of artists to put together sort of a lighthearted info piece about what is going on and why you should be wearing a mask and socially distancing, using humor.”
The pandemic created a sense of urgency that activated previously weak or non-existent networks of collaborators. Respondents recognized that the value of these collaborations extended beyond the current critical moment and encouraged everyone to continue growing strong connections with other institutions and organizations:
“Utilize your local networks if you have not connected to your Public Health Department. If you are a Public Health Department, if you are a hospital or hospital network and you are not connected with healthcare coalition or with your local group that has resources, you need to do so immediately and you need do so even after this pandemic burns itself out. These types of connections are useful and needed in all types of emergencies whether medical emergencies or fires or floods or anything like that, these local connections really pay off.”
*Blog image used from the National Guard Flickr account: https://www.flickr.com/photos/thenationalguard/albums/72157713483827538/with/49992414598/
On the photo: Tech. Sgt. Leslie Hamill, a medical technician with the Delaware Air National Guard’s 166th Medical Group, talks with a motorist during a drive-thru coronavirus testing mission at the Townsend Fire Company, Station 26, in Townsend, Delaware, June 9, 2020. Members of the Delaware National Guard supported the saliva-based testing of 100 people at the fire station location. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Capt. Brendan Mackie), June 2020