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Researchers leading statewide project to enlist COVID-19 volunteers

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University of Louisiana at Lafayette researchers are helping bolster the state’s health care system as it grapples with an ever-growing number of coronavirus cases.

Software researchers with UL Lafayette’s Informatics Research Institute developed the COVID-19 Volunteer Management System.

The system enables college students majoring in health care and non-health care disciplines – as well as current and retired medical professionals – to sign up to provide assistance to the state’s health care workers and voluntary organizations, said Dr. Henry Chu, the institute’s director.

“The institute’s research in informatics and data science focuses on areas such as population health, public safety, and community disaster resilience, all of which are relevant to the current COVID-19 response.”

The system is designed to allow students and professionals with backgrounds in virtually all areas of health care, including medicine, nursing, allied health professions, pharmacy, counseling, mental and behavioral health, dentistry, and laboratory science, to offer their services.

Individuals with training in non-health care disciplines can also sign up to prioritize phone calls, coordinate volunteers, provide logistical support or technology assistance, and other essential services.

Dr. Ramesh Kolluru, UL Lafayette’s vice president for Research, Innovation and Economic Development, said “volunteers can work remotely to provide call center services or patient care coordination.”

“They can also choose to get deployed in their communities to support professionals at testing centers, assist at local food banks and mass feeding operations or deliver food and medicines to the elderly and the infirm.”

Kolluru said the goal is to ease the burden on a health care system “that will quickly be stretched critically thin. Voluntary organizations across the state will begin to see the same as demands for their services escalate.”

The system asks volunteers for information about academic training and experience, specialized skills, types of volunteer services they are willing and able to provide, and available times and days.

The University of Louisiana System and the LSU System are collaborating on the project, along with the Louisiana State University Health Care Services Division’s Dr. Rebekah Gee.

The systems have collaborated with other universities and community colleges, and are working with a range of state agencies and nonprofit organizations. They include: the Louisiana Board of Regents, the Louisiana Department of Health’s Volunteers in Action program, the Office of the Lieutenant Governor’s Volunteer Louisiana Initiative, and the Louisiana Association of United Ways.

The system launched Wednesday. A total of 2,419 volunteers have signed up from across the state, said Micah LaCombe, the Informatics Research Institute’s technology officer. “That’s a phenomenal number in such a short period of time, and we’re expecting many more,” he said.

To access the COVID-19 Volunteer Management System website, visit www.COVID-19LAVolunteers.org

Graphic credit: University of Louisiana at Lafayette