HOUSTON, Texas (April 28, 2020) — As the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic took hold of our area, leaders from Harris County and the Harris County Public Health Department tapped Harris Health System to provide a community resource that could support and identify people who show COVID-19 symptoms and are eligible to be tested for the virus. In its 32 days of operation, the call center assessed nearly 44,000 callers.
Together, the organizations came up with a plan to create a website where residents filled out an online self-assessment on readyharris.org. If an assessment met certain criteria, the site visitor was given a phone number and a unique identifier to a call center with instructions to complete a second-level assessment with a nursing volunteer. The additional assessment determined if testing was needed and if so, the caller was given a choice of testing sites and a scheduled time.
Harris Health created the call center in a matter of days with 25 workstations to house the nursing volunteers who would be on-site. Additionally, Harris Health set up an electronic schedule and developed a volunteer list which quickly grew to 180 people. Volunteers and staff were trained on the call center technology and on how to walk a caller through the assessment. The call center operated from March 23 to April 22.
"There is an extensive amount of coordination that goes into a project like this. The first days were challenging," says Adrienne Mendoza, administrative director, Patient Services. "When the website was announced, we were flooded with calls. We received 4,413 calls the first day and 5,454 the second day."
Unfortunately, there were more calls than there were tests available. Initially, the county had only two testing sites at the time and each could conduct only 150 COVID-19 tests a day. Since that time, more tests and testing sites were added.
The call center took calls seven days a week. At its height, there were four testing sites and nursing volunteers were able to schedule more than 1,000 callers daily for tests.
It took about nine minutes for a nursing volunteer to perform a second-level assessment with a caller. The questions asked were part of an algorithm that helped them determine if the caller needed testing.
In the case of a caller who didn't speak English, Harris Health's Language Access Department was available to help provide translations services.
Members of Harris Health nursing leadership provided guidance to the volunteers and troubleshot any issues that arose. Language access managers oversee the call center technology and incoming call volume throughout each shift.
"This has been a huge collaborative effort, not only with the county, but within our own organization," Mendoza says. "Without the support of nursing, information technology, language access, appointment center training, security and many other departments, this would have been impossible. It has been a rewarding experience for our entire team to help play a role during this critical time."