Open Call: Building an open source employee screening tool with Grey County
June 11, 2020
In April, the Government of Ontario asked all long-term care homes in the province to implement an active screening protocol to help combat the spread of COVID-19. Staff and guests would be screened for symptoms and have their temperature taken before they entered the home — and when they left.
The County of Grey, 150 kilometres northwest of Toronto, manages three long-term care facilities. When the mandate was announced, staff set up screening stations with paper forms at their entrances. They were able to screen everyone, but it didn’t take long for the cracks in their system to show.
“After a few days of running it we found it was too slow,” said Jody MacEachern, the County’s Senior IT Manager. “People were congregating in the waiting area and it was hard to maintain physical distancing.”
Beyond crowding, Jody and his team were worried about what would happen if they had a COVID-19 case at one of the homes. They would need to initiate contact tracing, and sorting through piles of paper to do so could take precious time.
Neil Ecker, Grey’ Senior Programmer, “took a second stab” at the tool. In just a few days, he built a digital survey that’s quick to complete and stores the results in an easy-to-access database. As soon as it was deployed to care homes, the crowds in the lobbies began to thin out, and staff reported that screening was faster and less resource intensive.
Jody and Neil knew the tool they built could be useful to other municipalities and care homes, so they jumped at the chance to work with Open Call to turn it into something open source and shareable.
“In Ontario, you’ll see municipalities often doing the same thing with their own teams, working in silos. We like to look for opportunities where we can help them out,” Jody said, noting that of Grey County’s nine member municipalities, only three have an in-house IT team.
“They can’t always do it themselves. So if we can develop something for them, it saves money. It saves time.”
After a few phone calls to scope things out, they were connected with Brett Tackaberry, one of Open Call’s digital responders.
“As soon as I saw their tool, I saw how useful it could be for people in healthcare. It was really simple, and really in line with the values of civic tech,” said Brett, the CTO at Rebel.com and a co-organizer of both Civic Tech Ottawa and Random Hacks of Kindness Ottawa.
Brett worked alongside Neil to transform Grey County’s screening tool into something generic and usable not only by other governments and care homes, but any organization looking to do active COVID-19 screening. The result is already on GitHub, and available to anyone who wants to use it.
“You’ll see municipalities often doing the same thing with their own teams, working in silos. We like to look for opportunities where we can help them out.”
For Brett, the chance to collaborate with folks from across the public/private divide was one of the most rewarding parts of the project.
“In the private sector, there’s lots of talk about devops, and how teams can use things like Git or agile. Those values that we’ve developed can be transferred to other places,” he said. “I was able to work with Neil using those same tools and values, and it made things super smooth. Everything is documented. Everything’s online.”
Now that the employee screening tool is officially open source and part of the Open Call catalogue, Jody, Neil and Brett all share the same hope: that it gets used, and maybe even improved and iterated on, by others in the community.
“I’d be happy if it brought some value to someone else,” Jody said. “There’s a lot of long-term care homes, all under the same mandate for screening, and even people outside of healthcare. This could really help.”
Open Call is a collaboration between Code for Canada, the Canadian Digital Service and the Canada School of Public Service. The program includes pro bono technical support for government teams to help them develop, deploy and share digital solutions during the COVID-19 pandemic. We help governments move at the speed of need.