How Pandemic Health Workers are helping in the Chicago area

Illinois remains one of many states with high rates of COVID-19 cases. But there are indications growth of the virus is slowing, thanks in large part to social distancing measures and ensuring those with non-urgent symptoms remain home.

As part of these efforts, OSF HealthCare partnered with the state of Illinois to create the Pandemic Health Worker (PHW) program, a safe way to monitor and care for individuals with COVID-19 or symptoms of the virus at home instead of in a hospital setting. Pandemic Health Workers (PHWs) digitally support those needing care across the state, using technology to continually monitor symptoms over a 16-day period.

PHW teams are located all over the state to help people suffering from COVID-19 or similar symptoms. One group in the Chicago area is serving a population with a high infection rate. As the program gains more traction, the PHWs are reaching people with nowhere else to turn and who would have likely ended up in the emergency room, increasing the chance of spread.

Expanding the Mission

The PHW program for the Chicago area launched on April 7 out of OSF HealthCare Little Company of Mary Medical Center in Evergreen Park with a team of four people. Two act as site coordinators who manage the site and support deliveries on a daily basis and two are fielders responsible for safely delivering health kits to clients’ doors.

“It’s a pretty well-oiled machine,” said Gigi Wasz, a PHW fielder and site coordinator in Evergreen Park. “I get my assignments the night before on a tablet that tells me how many people I am delivering to and the order for distribution. Before I make my first drop off, I call my clients to let them know I am on my way. When I get there, I drop off their package, get back in my car and call them to walk them through the process.”

The health kits include a client guidebook, health education materials, thermometer, hand sanitizer and a tablet that is pre-loaded with communication applications and equipped with a data package. Peoria-based virtual PHWs digitally connect with their clients using the tablet up to two times a day.

“Through this program, we are safely monitoring and supporting people where they are and ensuring individuals aren’t putting themselves at further risk by coming to the hospital,” said Earl Power Murphy, a site coordinator for the PHW program in Evergreen Park. “It also gives us the opportunity to embody and expand our Mission of serving with the greatest care and love for people we may have never met before or had the opportunity to serve.”

‘A humbling experience’

The PHW team in Evergreen Park covers a broad portion of Chicago’s south side and the southwest suburbs. The group has enrolled a number of people into the program.

“My first delivery on Easter Sunday was a humbling experience,” said Wasz. “It was to a lady who had just lost someone to the virus and was scared she was going to die. She didn’t think there was anyone who cared about her, so it was great to provide a way to help her on her journey and let her know she is not alone.”

Wasz and her colleagues have encountered quite a few clients with these same circumstances. She and her team are also helping to address misinformation about treatment options for COVID-19.

“I’ve had a couple of clients who have been told by others they should go to the emergency room, a place you really shouldn’t be, especially if you are older or have a pre-existing condition,” said Wasz. “We’ve been able to prevent people from going to the ER if they didn’t need to.”

Wasz, who is also a Chicago area native and long-time employee of OSF Little Company of Mary, says the PHW program has been well-received among area residents.

“There was a lot of apprehension on the south side when Little Company of Mary decided to merge with OSF HealthCare because people were very loyal to our hospital, the Sisters and our 90 years of service. But this program has proved to be a wonderful introduction to OSF, as the culture is very similar. Even the Mission of serving with the greatest care and love, speaks for itself.”

How to enroll

The PHW program is available to anyone living in Illinois over the age of 18 who’s received an initial screening for the virus using digital assistant, Clare. Clients DO NOT have to be OSF HealthCare patients.

Based on that screening and nurse triage recommendations, individuals may be invited to enroll in the PHW program. Within 24 hours, a PHW will call individuals to enroll them, get a better understanding of their technology needs and make an appointment to drop off the health kit.

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