The Office of Inspector General (OIG) reviewed Veterans Crisis Line (VCL) operations ranging from contingency planning to quality metrics and lessons learned during the COVID-19 pandemic. The OIG completed remote interviews, document reviews, and surveyed VCL employees and Suicide Prevention staff. VCL staff had historically worked from communal call centers with shared space and equipment, a model that posed a safety risk to staff during the pandemic. To continue operations, VCL’s primary challenge was to equip and transition nearly 800 employees to telework-based operations. Over the course of six weeks, VA’s Office of Information and Technology prioritized VCL’s equipment needs and issued computers, monitors, and iPhones. Regional information technology staff ensured that VCL employees connected to the VA intranet site and accessed the programs needed to perform their duties. VCL employees were provided with training, guidance, and resources related to telework and new VCL processes. VCL leaders implemented precautionary measures to reduce staff’s risk of exposure in the call centers during the transition to telework by expanding call center space to allow for social distancing, providing face masks and sanitizing wipes, and requiring compliance with VHA-wide screening for COVID-19 symptoms before building entry. Despite these efforts, some surveyed employees felt some measures were inadequate to ensure safety. The VCL continued to meet performance targets for key indicators including speed of answer, rate of call abandonment, and levels of silent monitoring and caller satisfaction during and after staff’s transition to telework. VCL leaders reported that, in the future, VCL could benefit from a broader technology and equipment plan, its own information technology staff, and managing its own contracts; better succession planning with overlap for key positions; and maintaining an inventory of items such as headsets, keyboards, and cell phones. The OIG made no recommendations.
Wednesday, October 28, 2020
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Veterans Health Administration
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