Mobilizing to support states battling COVID-19 in underserved communities


Anne Thicke is an account manager with the OptumServe Reserve Health Readiness Program. She’s one part of a group of teams that swoops into armories to rapidly assemble health screening stations and ensure Army Reserve and National Guard soldiers are ready for deployment.

With “readiness” in the program title, these teams must be prepared. It’s these teams’ duty to figure out what’s needed in terms of people and supplies. They pack up the supplies, ship them out and then get the right people at the right place to successfully stage a deployment event.

With limited availability of COVID-19 testing because of short supplies and complex logistics, OptumServe decided to use this experience to create a COVID-19 testing service to bring testing to areas of highest need.

On April 22, California Gov. Gavin Newsom was the first to announce a partnership with OptumServe to help establish testing sites across the state at 80 locations. Click here to watch a local news story about the plan to better reach the underserved.

That meant the La Crosse, Wisconsin-based group had to accomplish what usually takes months in a matter of days and weeks.

“For the logistics team, we had to work faster than usual, but other than that, it was similar to what we do for the military,” says Thicke. “Instead of serving soldiers, we were able to test anyone in the community who wanted to be tested, whether they were having symptoms or not.”

“On the ground” 96 hours later

“From the moment the contract was signed, 96 hours later, we had teams on the ground getting ready to test California citizens,” noted OptumServe CEO Patty Horoho.

Watch Horoho talk to UnitedHealth Group CEO Dave Wichmann about the opportunity to help California ramp up testing when it mattered most.

Read the transcript.

Same skills, different mission

Thicke and her coworker Stephanie Gavrilos knew they would be heading to California to offer additional support on the ground to help oversee the launch of the testing sites, but there was a lot of work to be done first with the help of numerous teams.

“The big difference between our military work and our mission in California is the lead time,” says Gavrilos. “Usually we have the better part of a year to get everything planned for our multiple military events across the country. Our teams had to do everything faster.”

That meant getting massive amounts of supplies delivered to their Wisconsin warehouse.

“It’s literally everything needed to run a testing site and then getting it shipped it out to California,” says Thicke. “There are testing kits, gowns, masks, disinfectant wipes, printer paper, tissues. There are coolers, trash cans and plastic sheeting for the site to keep it CDC compliant and keep everybody safe.”

In this video, Wichmann and Horoho talk about how OptumServe really was “made for this moment” given its experience running events for the military.

Read the transcript.

More than just testing

The California partnership involved a lot more than shipping equipment and administering tests.

On the front end, OptumServe collaborated with state and county officials to identify testing site locations. While picking each site, the team had to consider an extra element. Since COVID-19 can linger in poorly-ventilated areas, it was crucial to check out each site’s ventilation and ensure that everyone could effectively socially distance.

Once the sites were up and running, OptumServe handled appointment scheduling, test processing and result notification.

“We also have our surveillance system where we’ll be able to show them potential hot spots,” says Horoho. “As we research different ways for testing, we’re able to pivot to that. We can also pivot to doing vaccinations once a vaccine comes.”

Horoho, a retired U.S. Army Lieutenant General, and first woman and nurse to serve as Army Surgeon General, is especially proud of how OptumServe can handle this mission — and others — from “end-to-end.” That’s on account of all the integrated competencies available to government clients: consulting, data analytics, health services and technology.

Testing high-risk Hoosiers, too

Days after partnering with California, the state of Indiana announced they were joining forces with OptumServe.

The logistics team once again sprang into action. The first 20 testing sites would open two weeks later with the balance opening over the following couple of weeks.

Between California and Indiana, OptumServe has performed more than 150,000 tests and counting.

Gratitude works both ways

“It felt good to go out there and help people who weren’t getting tested,” says Thicke.

While in California, she and Gavrilos witnessed careful handling of people and supplies by the teams staffing the testing sites.

Each station is set up to perform 132 tests per day; people arrive at specific times to avoid having too many people waiting in line and possibly spreading the virus.

Thicke and Gavrilos felt safe thanks to their personal protective equipment (PPE). They appreciated the OptumServe workers who staffed the sites, supported by all the different teams across the country, as well as everybody who came in to get checked for COVID-19.

They were struck by how grateful people were for the chance to get tested. Gavrilos says, “One person was so happy about getting a test, she ordered food for the whole testing team.”

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