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Kaiser supports contact tracing

A public-private partnership will deploy hundreds of workers

OW Staff Writer | 8/13/2020, midnight

Kaiser Permanente, the nation’s largest nonprofit, integrated health care system, is committing $63 million to support California’s contact-tracing work in order to reduce the number of Californians who contract COVID-19.

This support, in the form of charitable grant funding to the Public Health Institute, will create agile community health teams hired from within communities that have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19 to support the critical work of local public health departments. The support teams will be embedded in clinical settings to rapidly respond to COVID-19 hot spots and support ongoing contact-tracing efforts while ensuring high levels of privacy and security. This funding will also connect Californians in self-imposed isolation and quarantine with supportive services to assist with food, housing, childcare, and other needs.

“We must reduce the spread of COVID-19 and care for the communities that are being hit hardest by the virus,” said Kaiser Permanente Chairman and CEO Greg A. Adams. “The recent increase of cases in California demonstrates the importance of being able to accurately track the virus and respond when and where it begins to surge in order to save lives. We are committed to helping the state deploy a robust contact-tracing strategy that will help Californians safely regain their livelihoods.”

The work is being undertaken in collaboration with Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration, with the aim of reducing the number of Californians who contract COVID-19. The effort will add up to 500 people in clinical settings to support the state’s contact-tracing effort, which will help facilitate safe reopening for businesses and schools. Futuro Health, a nonprofit founded by Kaiser Permanente and SEIU-United Healthcare Workers West, will coordinate with the Public Health Institute to guide these new hires into allied health careers.

Preventing just one COVID-19 infection now can lead to big reductions of cases over time. For example, if each infected person transmits the disease to just two people, the size of the outbreak grows exponentially, with the potential for an additional 30 people to be infected by a four-step chain of transmission. In contrast, more than two dozen additional infections would be prevented if contact tracing succeeds in stopping each person from infecting just one other person. 

However, getting to that point has been hampered by limitations on resources to scale up needed infrastructure and a robust workforce. By creating culturally competent teams that can rapidly be deployed to address communities’ specific conditions, Kaiser Permanente and the Public Health Institute aim to bridge that gap.

“Kaiser Permanente’s support will allow us to initiate a rapid response network that can slow the spread of COVID-19. With teams based right within a clinic, we can offer support to people from the moment they realize they may have been exposed,” said Mary Pittman, DrPH, president and CEO of PHI. “And because we are focusing on hiring from within the community, they’ll be getting information and resources from people they trust, in the language they are most comfortable speaking.”