Concerned that local health departments around the state are getting overwhelmed with the job of getting in touch with all patients who have tested positive for COVID-19 and learning who they might have exposed, Indiana health officials plan to hand that job over to a Virginia-based company.
The Indiana State Health Department on Wednesday announced it is contracting with Maximus Inc., based in Reston, Virginia, starting May 11 to handle the job of contact tracing for all 92 counties.
Maximus will open a call center staffed with about 500 people trained by epidemiologists at the state health department. The health department did not say where the call center would be located or how long the contract might run. The contract is still being finalized but is expected to cost Indiana about $43 million a year, said Dr. Kristina Box, Indiana state health commissioner.
Contact tracing is the laborious, time-consuming process of reaching all people who have tested positive, walking them through a long questionnaire, determining who they have been in contact with for the previous two weeks and then trying to locate all those people.
“This is the way we can stop the spread,” Box said during Gov. Eric Holcomb’s daily press briefing.
Contact tracing is seen as critical piece of the effort of to reopen stores, offices and factories. That is because many infected people can be asymptomatic carriers of the disease and expose others without knowing it. Contact tracing has worked in curbing other infectious diseases, including measles, Ebola and tuberculosis.
Box said the new, centralized approach will be more efficient and take the burden off of local health departments, which are often understaffed and dealing with a raft of other issues, such as providing child immunizations and inspecting restaurants.
The state health department plans to use technology to reach out to all COVID positive patients with an email and a text, asking them to call the call center, which will be open 12 hours a day, seven days a week.
When the patient calls in, Maximus workers will complete the initial phone interview, identify the contacts that need to be notified, then send a text or an email to each of those contacts. If the COVID-positive patient does not call within four hours, Maximus will call the patient.
“This centralized technology-based system will free our local health departments to connect local individuals in isolation or quarantine with local resources that they may need to support themselves,” Box said.
She said the workers will not need a college degree and will receive training. Indiana selected Maximus after having conversations with seven companies already doing business with the state, she said. Maximus has also contracted with ISDH for its COVID-19 call center and works with FSSA.
The company, with about 34,000 employees, had revenue of $2.8 billion last year.
Box said the American State and Territorial Health Officers have put together a 3- to 4-hour video training program about how to do contact tracing. The workers will be backed up by medical and public health students, along with retirees.