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Miami wins award for innovations in contact tracing

Brian Henebry accepted a Top 100 CIO award on behalf of Miami University for its partnership with Tri-Health for contact tracing during the pandemic.
Brian Henebry accepted a Top 100 CIO award on behalf of Miami University for its partnership with Tri-Health for contact tracing during the pandemic.

Miami University’s Information Technology (IT) department and university services won the Top CIO 100 Award for their innovations in contract tracing during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Miami was the only university to win the award, alongside multinational corporations.

Kendall Leser, director of Miami’s public health program and co-director of its contact tracing efforts, supervised 169 student employees. She classified their job as applied training in public health.

“Normally the students worked in three hours shifts, every single day of the week,” she said. “If their shift was ending, it could easily be transferred to another student, and they could pick up where the last contact tracer left off.”

Leser and her team thought of new ways to improve Miami’s contact tracing results. By switching to a completely electronic method and implementing a 24/7 live call line on which Butler County volunteers served, Miami’s methods became much more efficient and better qualified for the award than other universities.

“We set up a process that if a Miami student needed housing, a case automatically got created, and the COVID case managers were able to go in and grab that case and work on it without needing to go back and forth between various lists with the health department,” Leser said.

David Seidl, vice president for information technology and chief information officer of Miami, managed the project. He also helped the university navigate other technological issues caused by the pandemic.

When Miami transitioned to virtual learning, Seidl and his team had to teach faculty how to use Zoom, set up classrooms for hybrid instruction and run software for COVID reporting and exemption tracking.

“All of that stuff was kind of an emergency response work overload,” Seidl said. “We were already running at 100%.”

Brian Henebry, assistant vice president of solution delivery at Miami, accepted the award on behalf of Miami. He said it exemplifies Miami’s larger effort to combat COVID-19. 

“There were a lot of efforts to isolate students during that period of time so that we could keep classes up and active,” Henebry said. “But the biggest challenge that I dealt with was the ever changing guidelines.” 

Erin Smiley, representative for the Butler County General Health District, said partnering with Miami benefited the contact tracing effort especially early on in the pandemic.

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“The infrastructure that was required to do contact tracing for so many people was impossible for us to keep up with,” she said. “We had a really unique opportunity to partner with a larger institution like Miami to take something like this on.”

Seidl said the project succeeded because of a special sense of collaboration. Every individual contribution mattered.

“It couldn't have been sustained without the dedication and commitment of this group and also their flexibility when something needed to be adjusted,” he said. 

Leser said the award shows the significance of Miami’s less prominent fields of research.

“The IT department oftentimes does things that are behind the scenes that we don't really recognize,” she said. “So this really highlights the importance of it as a collaborator, when making significant public health change.”