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Steuben County health leaders see benefits of getting outside help with COVID testing

COVID Testing Vials

Just as COVID-19 testing sites were beginning to pop up across Indiana, health officials in Steuben County were ready to charge ahead. “We weren’t going to go with VPC, to be honest. We thought we could handle it ourselves,” says Alicia Walsh. Walsh is the Chief Environmental Health Specialist and Administrator for the Steuben County, Indiana Health Department.

“But the logistics and time you need to hire the people, train them, and in all honesty — VPC had a good grasp of that already for COVID testing sites,” she says. Walsh’s honesty notes she tried to haggle for a lower bid on testing site operations, even as it became clear to her and the rest of the Department simply lacked the time and human resources to make it work as quickly as it needed to.

As part of VPC’s Health Department Emergency Preparedness Program, teams raced to:

  • Stay within the State’s $100,000 per-county budget for test sites.
  • Hire and train staff to administer COVID-19 nasal swab tests.
  • Help advertise the test site to local communities.
  • Maintain communication with key stakeholders through calls, text, and emails.
  • Accommodate all of the fast-changing standards and procedures required by the Indiana State Department of Health (IDOH).

“I couldn’t have done it,” says Walsh. It’s the last point about accommodating quick changes from IDOH that have been most challenging. “They’ve met all my expectations, exceeded in many categories. Not just with communications, but with tenacity in the face of change. The State has been telling me what to do at the facility and VPC has taken every challenge to make a go-around or process that works for both us and the State.”

“And VPC is well respected,” she adds. “When people in our community found out the site was run by VPC, people were excited. Being a third-party provider, there was an extra sheen of professionalism.”

For rural counties like Steuben, Walsh has clear advice for her counterparts in other counties: “When you look at the service VPC is providing, not only are they providing the framework and logistical help, but there’s a cost-benefit. When we looked at the time to do it ourselves on top of eight or nine other programs we’re responsible for [such as routine sanitation and inspection programs], adding something else was not feasible.”

The contract, which was fully funded by the IDOH, Walsh had little trouble convincing county leaders of the benefit. Nearby Wayne and Noble Counties were already using VPC. “VPC stepped forward willing to take this on. We have a signed contract with stipulations, and no one’s ever done this before. There is money that the state is allowing us to use toward this. We have to meet certain things, we can meet them, so why not hire VPC to reach this goal?”

Simply doing without a test site was not an option for health leaders in Steuben County. “If we don’t have testing, people might go elsewhere — potentially taking a virus with them as all our people are flooding into another community. We’re supposed to be pulling our own load.” 

VPC’s Health Department Preparedness Program is running in several Indiana counties. To add your county to the list or get more information, call, email, or request more information now.

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