Johnson County calls in help after overwhelmed by COVID-19 vaccination questions

Tracking Coronavirus

FILE – In this Friday, Jan. 22, 2021 file photo, empty vials of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine are seen at a vaccination center at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas in Las Vegas. Makers of COVID-19 vaccines need everything to go right as they scale up from early-stage production to hundreds of millions of doses – and any little hiccup could cause a delay. (AP Photo/John Locher)

OLATHE, Kan. — Flooded with forms and constantly ringing phones, the Johnson County Department of Health called in reinforcements Monday.

The change comes after 150,000 people completed the county’s vaccine interest survey, many more than once. Thousands of other people living in Johnson County overwhelmed the phone lines to the department’s office.

All of it swamped county workers, caused a lot of extra work, and frustrated tens of thousands of people hoping to be vaccinated.

“There are a number of people who have filled them out 5, 10, 40 times and so it falls on the epidemiology team to really go through that and make sure we have one record per person,” Elizabeth Holzschuh, an epidemiologist with the Johnson County Health Department said.

She also said that because of errors, confusion and server issues, thousands of surveys haven’t been fully completed.

The county hired a group of contractors to help in its call center. They started training Monday and expect to be able to help the current call center staff later this week.

“The hope for these individuals is to focus on this vaccine rollout. We know that the number of calls is just astronomical and we know that people are frustrated,” Holzschuh said. “We’re hopeful that this first piece of additional capacity, probably the first piece of many.”

According to Holzschuh, last week the call center has received thousands of calls a day. Most had something to do with the county’s rollout plan to administer the COVID-19 vaccine.

“There were days last week were we probably had over 2,000 calls and when you think about before the vaccine rollout our team was managing a few hundred a day, this has been really a tremendous increase for the existing staff,” Holzschuh said.

The health department is also working on other changes in hopes of getting information to the public more effeciently.

“If you have questions, we want to answer them,” said Dr. Sanmi Areola, director of the Johnson County Health Department. “If you want to know what our plans are tomorrow, we want to be able to tell you.”

The department said to expect changes in technology. You will soon be able to leave a message and someone will return your call. They will also return emails from you, and the department plans to have more Facebook live Q&As and news conferences to help keep people informed about updates and changes in the vaccine rollout plan.

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