State tackles pandemic with united responseposted by Brent Brown on April 6, 2021
Story by Sarah Verschoor, Indiana Department of Health Office of Public Affairs
The COVID-19 pandemic has stretched state agencies in ways never imagined, but the challenge has also brought us together to serve Hoosiers like never before.
The Indiana Department of Health has been the central agency driving the pandemic response. Since the first case was diagnosed in Indiana in March 2020, the department has developed a robust COVID-19 testing system, contact traced, deployed strike teams to jails and long-term care facilities and, most recently, facilitated the creation of more than 400 vaccination sites and several mass vaccination sites as this valuable tool to curb the pandemic is distributed across the state.
“I have immense pride in all that we have accomplished,” said State Health Commissioner Kris Box, MD, FACOG. “It has been a difficult year for Hoosiers, but everyone at the Department of Health has stepped up and taken on new roles to best support the health of our state.”
The agency’s efforts have resulted in more than 9 million COVID-19 tests administered, 250,000 people subscribed to updates on the department’s COVID-19 website, and more than 3 million shots given in one year.
“Because of the urgency of the COVID-19 crisis, our department has had to tackle big obstacles, like creating state-wide testing and vaccination infrastructures in less than a year’s time,” said Megan Lytle, IDOH’s Director of Emergency Preparedness. “But it has also shown the strength and dedication of our staff.”
IDOH’s work would not have been possible without the collaboration of other state agencies. The Family and Social Services Administration, Department of Correction, Department of Homeland Security, Indiana State Police, Indiana National Guard, Management Performance Hub, Department of Transportation, Indiana Economic Development Corporation and many others have been instrumental in the state’s pandemic response.
“Any time two agencies work together to focus on the health and well-being of Hoosiers and can do that work together seamlessly and selflessly, everyone benefits,” said Dr. Jennifer Sullivan, secretary of the Indiana Family and Social Services Administration.
FSSA has played an important role connecting Hoosiers to needed resources, including the expansion of Indiana 211. The 211 hotline has been adapted to the COVID-19 crisis to allow people to schedule vaccine appointments and get help from the Be Well Crisis Helpline for those facing mental health challenges, and it will soon support the Housing and Community Development program to help with rent relief.
From Jan. 1 to March 31, the 211 vaccine line received 1,172,738 inbound calls; helped 924,947 Hoosiers make appointments; scheduled, registered and rescheduled 335,685 appointments; and made 52,640 outbound calls.
A heartwarming story from the vaccine line, Sullivan said, involved a 70-year-old woman who needed to reschedule vaccine appointments for herself, her husband, and a neighbor. She insisted all of their appointments be at the same time so that they could hold hands during the shot. The 211 team was able to make that happen.
The Indiana National Guard has provided on-the-ground support to most areas of the COVID-19 response at testing sites, vaccine clinics and more.
One of the Guard’s key missions was supporting long-term care facilities around the state. Beginning in November, they were deployed to 530 sites. Approximately 1,500 soldiers and airmen embedded with these facilities’ teams to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in nursing homes, which were hardest hit by the pandemic. Their latest role is helping to support mass vaccination clinics across the state, including those at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
The soldiers have often worked in the communities in which they live and sometimes know the people they are helping, Lt. Col Randi Bougere said.
“Assisting at long-term care facilities was a rewarding and enjoyable mission for our airmen and soldiers,” Bougere said. “It was one of the many ways Indiana Guardsmen contributed to helping our fellow Hoosiers, state agencies and the nation during the coronavirus pandemic.”
Other congregate living settings that had COVID-19 outbreaks were the state’s prisons. The Department of Correction has worked with the state Department of Health on multiple infection-control initiatives, including strike team mass testing, data collection and tracking, protocol development, and safety procedures for staff and incarcerated individuals.
The work has been exhausting, but extremely rewarding, said Annie Goeller, chief communications officer at IDOC.
“It feels great to know we have the support of the state and local health departments, which can only lead to better care of our community in the future,” she said. “We are starting to see some light at the end of the tunnel, with case numbers dropping, and are looking forward to the days when we can fully resume the many programs that are essential to our mission at DOC.”
The Indiana State Police (ISP) have also had a significant role in the pandemic response. They have worked hand-in-hand with logistical experts at the Department of Transportation and the National Guard, said Capt. Ron Galaviz, ISP’s chief public information officer. Troopers have traveled from around the state, taking vital supplies to assigned areas. “We’re adaptable to so many different situations and events,” Galaviz said. “We do our best work when public safety is the end goal. We were so very proud, honored and blessed to work with such great agencies here in the state.”