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“Le Omelette” recipe: the making of a collaborative database
Database picture

By Talia Gad 

The problem

When county liaisons open the Excel spreadsheet that contained Oregon’s Public Health emergency preparedness information, they would sometimes find the dreaded “#VALUE!” error in cells spotted throughout the document. To solve this problem, emergency response partners cooked up “Le Omelette” database. 

County liaisons at the Oregon Public Health Division’s Health Security Preparedness and Response (HSPR) Program frequently did battle with the program. “There were 34 separate Excel spreadsheets plus one aggregate spreadsheet that would pull together some of the information,” said Public Health liaison Elizabeth Miglioretto. “Because many of us entered data into the individual county Excel files, the aggregate sheet would inevitably get thrown off.”

But Excel’s limitations didn’t stop there. Up until now, the HSPR program had measured the work accomplished at the local level based on general and ever-changing requirements. When the data was compiled for reports to the Council of Local Health Officials, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or others, they weren’t able to capture all the great work that was being done. 

Add to the mix that the Excel files only kept track of current measures, which meant that data couldn’t be looked at or measured over time — a significant barrier when it comes to delivering documented information to the CDC.

Data collection, program evaluation, annual assessments: all calculations that are critical to a public health system that is on track and prepared. HSPR didn’t have what it needed to be efficient and needed an upgrade. 

The opportunity 

At the same time, Oregon’s Office of Emergency Management (OEM) was struggling with similar barriers. OEM is required to fulfill frequent and detailed requests from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) but didn’t have a comprehensive database to store all the information. That meant regularly interrupting counties’ work to ask for data and reports.

Separately and at the same time, both HSPR and OEM began developing a data collection tool. Both quickly discovered only a portion of the funding was available to each agency for the upgrade. 

It was a perfect opportunity. 

The solution

The answer was a database both agencies could use, and the collaboration was ideal. By pooling resources, both OEM and HSPR could have all necessary functions, and the new program would efficiently keep track of everything necessary for safety planning and emergency management. 

Matthew Marheine, OEOM’s domestic preparedness coordinator noted several reasons that collaboration made sense. “The collection of data for Homeland Security includes many aspects in the medical and health field. Knowing HSPR also has requirements to collect similar data, we wanted to maximize the effort as much as possible and minimize the impact on the state.”

Marheine added that efficiencies go even further. “OEM and HSPR both facilitate multiple grants to our locals and the partnership. A collective database reduces the duplication of effort that impacts the already burdened local capabilities.” 

“Le Omelette” database, named by County Liaison Brian Mahoney, is partly a blending of “liaison” and “OEM” and in part a recognition that those involved kept throwing in new “ingredients” as it was being developed. 

Le Omelette

Incorporation of Le Omelette database begins with a 326-question public health preparedness assessment to be completed by each local health department. Topics range from community preparedness to public health surveillance and epidemiological investigation. 

“Initial data entry will clearly require time and effort,” said Tom Sharp, emergency preparedness coordinator in the Harney County Government and Public Health. “But once compiled, this web-based tool will provide jurisdictions a useful framework as the ‘go-to repository’ for information retrieval, information maintenance, gap analysis and work planning that is important at the local level.”

Liaisons expect to complete assessments by mid-April, at which point local public health preparedness coordinators will be able to develop reports with more specific boundaries and scopes of information. Using the database, health departments and health care coalitions will also be able to develop work plans for upcoming years, including forecasting the work, support and resources needed to maintain current capabilities and building the capabilities that are a local priority. 

For the state, reports will provide a bird’s eye view of what areas need to be addressed throughout Oregon. “When we aggregate on a state level,” said Miglioretto, “we can see where there may be gaps across programs, and we can determine from there how they can be filled through state action, policy or planning — especially if one change or activity will help nearly everybody.”

Marheine agrees, and he adds there are other benefits as well. “This system will enhance the state’s ability to work with the community to establish priorities, focus on high-impact projects and initiatives, develop strategies and collectively enhance the state’s capabilities.” 

Other perks include annual reports that will allow for changes to be tracked over time and a quicker public health accreditation process because much of the necessary documentation will have already been compiled.

“A year from now,” said Miglioretto, “we hope to have enough information to establish a cycle of quality improvement where we continue to improve the public health preparedness program at both the state and local levels.” 

For more information, contact Elizabeth Miglioretto, Public Health liaison, at elizabeth.miglioretto@state.or.us or (541) 684-2476.

Next: Disease outbreaks and public health response

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