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Lt. j.g. Ronni Zona, Naval Medical Center Portsmouth’s COVID-19 Call Center division officer, answers a call Sept. 3. The call center is focused on identifying symptomatic patients, active duty members and staff, so that they can be scheduled to receive a COVID test.

PORTSMOUTH

Naval Medical Center Portsmouth’s (NMCP) COVID Call Center reached a milestone by answering their 50,000th call on Dec. 1.

The concept for the call center began on Mar. 6 when the need arose to answer the ever increasing incoming calls regarding COVID-19, and grew into a call center staffed with multidisciplinary clinical personnel working through a central database to assist the nearly 900 calls per day.

“I cannot reiterate strongly enough that reaching this milestone of 50,000 calls occurred only through brilliant strategic and tactical execution by a diverse, selfless team,” said Lt. Cmdr. Aaron Daley, NMCP Directorate of Medical Services associate director.

At the beginning of the pandemic, the call center received a large numbers of calls relating to travel, command-specific guidelines, and other issues that were not directly related to the mission of the NMCP COVID Call Center. Now, it is focused on identifying symptomatic patients, active duty members and staff, so they can schedule them to get a COVID test at NMCP’s COVID Drive Thru testing site.

“The main goal of the COVID call center is to safely triage patients who have COVID-like illness signs and symptoms without needlessly increasing patient or staff risk of exposure, and to assist patients who can otherwise manage their symptoms at home,” Daley said. “Fewer positive patients visiting the ER (emergency room) or hospital limits the transmission rate of the disease.”

Lt. Cmdr. Terry Brown, NMCP COVID Call Center officer in charge, said that they currently have a staff of 14 answering phones and triaging patients. The process in triaging patients is determining the severity of their symptoms based on three criteria. First, can patients manage symptoms at home? Second, do patients require an appointment to see their primary care doctor? Or third, are symptoms severe enough to be seen by the Emergency Department?

“This information is gathered within seconds of speaking to patients on the phone,” Brown said. “After determining those key categories, the patient’s information is entered into the COVID Database and scheduled for a COVID swab the next day. The process itself takes about three to five minutes per patient to include the administrative piece to complete the call.”

The current design of the call center, which Daley and his staff refer to as Call Center 2.3, dramatically decreased call wait times while using half the staff and dealing with a call volume that is 64% greater than the average of the first five months of the pandemic.

“This is not a mission that anyone asked for, but in typical ‘don’t give up the ship’ fashion, our Navy team is literally and figuratively answering the call,” Daley said. “I could not be more proud of their efforts.”

As the U.S. Navy's oldest, continuously-operating military hospital since 1830, Naval Medical Center Portsmouth proudly serves past and present military members and their families. The nationally-acclaimed, state-of-the-art medical center, along with the area's 10 branch health and TRICARE Prime Clinics, provide care for the Hampton Roads area. The medical center also supports premier research and teaching programs designed to prepare new doctors, nurses and hospital corpsman for future roles in healing and wellness.

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