Responding to the COVID-19 Pandemic
Prioritizing collaboration, vetted needs, vulnerable communities and health equity, Dell Med faculty and staff rapidly responded to COVID-19 and continue to put their expertise to work across Austin and Travis County. Here’s a look into how, as of July 2020.
A Rapid & Ongoing Response in Central Texas
Caring for Vulnerable Communities
The “Bringing Health Home” program, a partnership between the Housing Authority of the City of Austin and Dell Med, supports Austinites with low income by assessing health and social service needs, developing wellness plans and linking individuals to needed care and services. The program quickly adapted to a remote support model, including resident community health workers checking in with residents via phone and connecting them to telehealth services. It also offers relief packages with food, disinfectants and blood oxygen monitors to help residents with COVID-19 stay safe and healthy at home.
Getting Essential Supplies to Community Organizations
The COVID-19 ATX Exchange works with community leaders and clinical, public health and community-based organizations to identify needs, then teams up with volunteers to facilitate donation, collection and delivery of resources to meet those needs. Since March, the effort has donated 102,000+ items to support essential workers and clients of 70+ local organizations providing services for vulnerable communities across Central Texas.
Providing Leadership & Expertise
Dell Med faculty are part of local, state and national advisory teams informing clinical, public health and policy initiatives, including:
- Clay Johnston, M.D., serving as an informal adviser to the mayor and county judge;
- Amy Young, M.D., leading UT Health Austin clinical care and advising UT Austin officials on testing, contact tracing and campus reopening strategies;
- Parker Hudson, M.D., serving as a chief medical adviser for Gov. Greg Abbott’s Strike Force to Open Texas;
- Jonathan MacClements, M.D., appointed alternate health authority for Austin Public Health; and
- Jewel Mullen, M.D., serving on the Committee on Equitable Allocation of Vaccine for the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine.
Preventing Spread Among People Experiencing Homelessness
In collaboration with Austin Public Health, CommUnityCare and other partners, Dell Med faculty are coordinating multiple efforts to support people experiencing homelessness. When a cluster of COVID-19 cases arose in a local shelter in March, the team tested 141 residents and staff over two days, rapidly containing the outbreak and preventing spread. As part of ongoing work, the team has surveillance tested 700+ individuals in both sheltered and unsheltered populations and provides mobile health care.
Designing New & Improved Systems of Care
The Design Institute for Health put its team of designers to work on multiple fronts:
- on an ongoing project for the City of Austin to identify opportunities to protect nursing home residents and reduce risk of COVID-19 spread in long-term care facilities;
- collaborating with CommUnityCare clinical leaders to develop a nationally distributed guide for establishing and scaling efficient drive-thru testing sites; and
- working with the City of Austin to create FeedATX, which matches emergency food assistance support with organizations serving vulnerable populations in Central Texas.
ON THE FRONT LINE
Providing Mental Health Support for Front-Line Workers
Dell Med’s departments of Health Social Work and Psychiatry, along with UT Austin’s Steve Hicks School of Social Work and dedicated volunteers, created a confidential Health Care Worker Mental Health COVID-19 Hotline to connect health care workers 24/7 with counseling services from psychiatrists, psychiatry residents and volunteer licensed mental health professionals. The hotline is supported in part by a generous gift from the Hogg Foundation for Mental Health.
Contact Tracing to Prevent Community Spread
Dell Med and UT Health Austin, along with Austin Public Health, provided clinical expertise and significant resources to rapidly develop and scale a contact tracing program for patients testing positive at the UT Health Austin drive-thru testing site. In April, this expanded to include patients from CommUnityCare, Dell Seton Medical Center, Dell Children’s Medical Center and Ascension Seton Medical Center Austin. From April through July, 200+ volunteers managed approximately 4,000 cases, subsequently identifying nearly 8,600 related contacts. In August, the team shifted its focus to support UT Austin faculty, staff and students returning to campus.
Communicating Critical Public Health Information
Dell Med provides wide-ranging educational resources (including public service announcement videos) in English and Spanish as part of collaborative efforts with Austin Public Health, Central Health, University Health Services and other partners to highlight COVID-19-specific public health messages. Additional efforts include:
- Dell Med clinical experts participating in 7+ virtual town halls for the Spanish-speaking community in collaboration with Univision, the City of Austin and other partners;
- coordinating 12+ weekly webinars with Travis County Medical Society to share timely information with local physicians and other health professionals; and
- media interviews with diverse local, statewide and national media outlets, including the eight-week, COVID-19-focused “Now What?” series with KUT, Austin’s NPR affiliate.
Addressing Food Insecurity
Good Apple, founded by Dell Med students, collaborates with Central Texas farmers to provide emergency grocery delivery services as part of its “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” program, particularly supporting people at higher risk for serious illness related to COVID-19. Since March, the program has managed 18,100+ unique home deliveries of 560,000+ pounds of fresh produce and grocery staples. Health equity experts in Dell Med’s Department of Population Health also collaborated with the UT School of Public Health and the City of Austin to assess the local impact of COVID-19 on food access.
Designing & Distributing Low-Cost Ventilators
Health product innovation experts from Dell Med’s Texas Health Catalyst program are working with a team of engineers from UT Austin’s Cockrell School of Engineering to design, build and distribute low-cost bridge ventilator devices to help care for COVID-19 patients. Pending emergency use authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, about 50 of the specially designed ventilators, which use inexpensive and widely available mechanical parts, will be distributed to rural hospitals across the state in partnership with the Texas Organization of Rural and Community Hospitals. The team could produce several hundred more ventilators if the demand exists, thanks to philanthropic support from private companies and organizations.