TRC Employees Honored on EKU's Day of Service for their Role in Contact Tracing
During Eastern Kentucky University’s day of service on August 9, two Training Resource Center (TRC) employees received the EKU Distinguished Service Award from President David McFaddin. Becky Smith, TRC Human Resources Business Partner, and Julia Kirby, Learning and Development Facilitator working with the Division of Protection and Permanency, were recognized for their contact tracing efforts to fight the spread of COVID-19 in the EKU Community. These were the first distinguished service awards that Dr. McFaddin has given as president of the university.
Contact tracers were invited to an appreciation dinner at Arlington on August 10 for their contact tracing work, but were surprised by the award, which was mounted on a plaque and complete with a medal.
“I was not expecting [the award]” Smith said.
Kirby was also surprised by this honor.
“To get an award of this magnitude, it was overwhelming,” Kirby said. Kirby shared that she better understands the reason contact tracers were given these awards as she deals with her first wave of high caseloads. Though Kirby did not experience the case load explosion last October, she is dealing with the current rapid increase in cases. “There have been days I have been talking with Becky [about her contact tracing work] and I have told her to break that glass and put that medal on!” Kirby said.
As EKU released a comeback plan in the summer of 2020, contact tracing was a vital part of controlling the spread of COVID-19 on campus as faculty, staff and students returned. Initially, Associate Vice President for Public Safety Bryan Makinen performed the contact tracing himself, but as cases multiplied, he reached out to the various EKU HR business partners, and later contacted other departments. The need continued to grow and Makinen eventually posted contact tracer positions on the EKU employment system. As an HR business partner, Smith was one of the first to hear about this opportunity and decided to get involved. “It was a service to EKU faculty, staff and students; a service to the EKU community,” Smith said. Kirby was hired in December.
Smith and Kirby completed extensive online training before they could pick up the phone and make their first call. Smith said they completed 20 to 30 hours of training that covered topics like confidentiality and cultural competency. She said contact tracing work happens in the evenings and on the weekends. When EKU community members complete the self-monitoring form, their case is assigned to a contact tracer. Since Smith works in HR, she receives mostly faculty and staff cases since she can answer questions about benefits and sick time. Smith said she calls them and first verifies they are the correct individual, then verifies symptoms they are having. If the person has been contacted by the Madison County Health Department, they already have a release date. But if not, the contact tracers provide a release date. If Smith handles student cases of those who lived on campus, she coordinates with housing to secure the student a room assignment and meal delivery during the quarantine period.
Smith said the main challenge of being a contact tracer is the time commitment and the coordination of services when the caseload is high.
“It is hard to keep up with the ongoing cases and handle the new cases,” she said. Smith began contact tracing in August 2020, and she watched her cases grow from one case a day to a high of 8 to 10 cases a day last October. During this peak, Smith would work three hours each night on contact tracing duties. Kirby shared that contact tracers have more than one role. “It is part-detective work, part counseling,” she said. The detective work comes when a COVID-19-positive person has been with a group of people and all those people need to be contacted and given instruction based on vaccination status and other factors. Kirby’s counselor role was necessary as people reacted to the call. “They just want to be supported,” Kirby said. “They also want to know their next steps.” Kirby also shared that she wanted to make sure she checked in on her individuals every couple of days, not knowing if they had any other support during this time.
While challenging, Smith said she sees the work as rewarding. One success she shared was the statistic that EKU has had zero documented COVID-19 transmissions in the classroom. EKU’s contact tracing work helps make that possible. Smith said she also enjoys working for EKU in a different capacity. Through this work, she met EKU staff in nursing and housing. “It was great to get out and meet people from across campus,” she said.
At the awards dinner, Smith was able to match voices from phone calls with faces. Kirby shared she enjoyed reconnecting with the EKU community. Kirby graduated from EKU in 2002 and was excited to become an EKU employee in 2014. “It is full circle; I get to give back to the campus,” she said. She said EKU could have outsourced the contact tracing jobs, but they chose to use EKU employees, who have more of an understanding of the EKU Community. “I feel connected to the campus, I have walked the campus and stayed in the dorms,” Kirby explained. “I think it helps me relate.” Kirby felt that she could sympathize with the student who had to miss rush or an athlete who had to be quarantined.
As a learning and development facilitator working with the Division of Protection and Permanency, Kirby affirmed that her current EKU position aids her in her contact tracing role. “As I trainer, I am used to telling people what they need to hear, but may not want to hear,” Kirby said. She continued that she has had success, and everyone seems receptive and understands what they need to do. Smith’s job in HR has also enhanced her contact tracing work. “TRC is so customer-focused and community-focused. We are just one step away from the front lines of human services, Smith said. “[Contact tracing] is a way to serve the community and help keep COVID-19 from spreading.”
To learn more about EKU's response to COVID-19, visit https://staywell.eku.edu/.
Published on September 09, 2021