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Training a Contact Tracing Workforce

Contact Tracing on Navajo Nation

Contact Tracing for the Navajo Nation was enabled by the Navajo Nation Department of Health, the Navajo Area Indian Health Service and the Community Outreach and Patient Empowerment program, known as COPE. COVID-19 reached the Navajo Nation in March of this year and spread quickly across the large reservation (17 million acres) and has infected over 10,000 and has killed over 550 members of the Navajo Nation to date.

Prior to the onset of COVID-19 on Navajo Nation, COPE had been utilizing an application for mobile devices called CommCare, developed by technology company Dimagi. This app, which can work both online and offline, allows for team communication and for patient information to be communicated back and forth to health care providers in a data secured process. Initially, the mobile device was used by community health workers as an educational platform, focusing on the Cancer Care Continuum. COPE’s Cancer Program allowed health education on prevention, screening and treatment to be tailored to individual needs. This led to increased cancer awareness among those living in rural Navajo communities through this innovative technology platform. COPE’s experience with CommCare factored into the Navajo Nation's decision to use CommCare as the data platform for contact tracing. The application was designed specifically for Navajo Nation to begin contact tracing across the reservation and to securely collect data that is pertinent to mitigate and stop the spread of COVID-19.

COPE Cancer Program Specialists to train Community Health Representatives (CHR’s)

COPE has years of experience training Navajo Nation community health workers and has been a bridge for the community to access health education and assistance. Now, working under the guidance of the Navajo Unified Command Center, COPE along with sister-organizations Brigham and Women's Hospital and Partners In Health, has been leading the training of Navajo Nation Community Health Representatives, public health workers, volunteer medical students and volunteer college students to conduct contact tracing on the Navajo Nation using CommCare technology.

Stacey Thompson, Cancer Program Specialist for COPE, said

"The CommCare application does require users to adapt and navigate into a new system, in which training and support is offered to each service unit on the Navajo Nation. Some individuals enjoy the good ol’ fashion of documenting with pen and paper and this application requires information to be captured in real time to provide efficient isolation and quarantine, so there is definitely a learning curve when trying to get users to use technology as the main source of documentation. This system allows patients to be registered for confirmed cases which prompts case investigation, and identification of contacts.”

Since March 2020, COPE’s team of trainers has trained a workforce of over 500 users that include Community Health Representatives (CHRs), public health nurses, facility departments, and volunteers in the use of CommCare. To become contact tracers, trainees must complete HIPAA training. All information is kept secure within the system.

COPE continues to serve as a bridge between members of the Navajo Nation and health care. “I like seeing all of our partners work together. It is neat to see volunteers join our team. They come from the East Coast, from Canada, MIT students, student interns from Diné College, UNM and Ft. Lewis College.” said Stacey. If you would like to find out how you can become a Contact Tracer, please check out our job postings.


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