Every day, Gigi Wasz goes into her office at OSF HealthCare in Oak Lawn and gets a list of people who have asked for help through the state-funded Pandemic Health Worker Program. The clients include people who suspect they might have COVID-19, or who know they have it but are not sick enough to need hospitalization. Some of them are just afraid that they might have it. She assembles the kits they need — from the most basic kit, with information about COVID-19, a resource guide, hand sanitizer and a few other items, to ones containing thermometers or even tablet computers with apps pre-loaded to help people care for themselves and communicate with health care providers. Those who are most ill, or perhaps have been discharged from the hospital, get more equipment, including devices to monitor blood pressure and oxygen levels. Then, one by one, she drops the kits off. “First I call to let them know I’m coming,” she said. “And I ask where I can leave it safely — on the porch or the deck or if it’s an apartment building, maybe the vestibule. Then I drop the kit off, go back to my car and call them back and stay on the phone while they get the kit and I go through everything in it with them.” People connect with Wasz and other workers like her by calling OSF’s pandemic hotline, 1-833-OSF-KNOW, or using Clare, the virtual health care advisor available at osfhealthcare.org. Those programs can refer people to the Pandemic Health Worker Program, said Nikki Delinski, who is coordinating the efforts through the OSF Jump Simulation Center in Peoria. “The health worker program is for anyone who experiences COVID-like symptoms,” Delinski said. “This is a program that is digitally connecting with those individuals to build their security and confidence to stay home.” Clients then check in with health care providers up to twice a day, using everything from text messages to video calls, depending on the severity of their symptoms and their technological capability. “We’ve seen clients who maybe would have felt like they needed to see a doctor for low-grade symptoms like maybe a dry cough, where maybe they now will stay home and take care of it,” Delinksi said. If someone reports worsening symptoms, health care workers can work directly with nurses and other health care providers. Clients can be moved to the “Acute COVID At Home” program, with more monitoring available. If necessary, Delinksi said, health care workers will tell patients, “You need to get tested,” or even, “You need to go to the emergency department.” The care is provided under a state grant and is free to clients. The program, which went live in early April, serves about 500 clients on any given day, and has helped thousands of people since it went live in early April, Delinksi said. “It’s truly anybody,” she said. They may actually have strep throat or just the common cold or flu. We didn’t want to take any chances.” Some clients found out halfway through their two weeks that their symptoms were not caused by COVID-19, but opted to stay with the program for the reassurance it provided, Delinksi said. Others saw their symptoms develop over the course of the two weeks. “We have people who didn’t really start getting the fever until seven days into the program,” she said. Wasz, who delivers kits in the field, said she’s proud of how the effort has helped Illinois flatten the curve of COVID-19 hospitalizations. “We were inundated,” she said of OSF Little Company of Mary Medical Center in Evergreen Park, where she has worked for nine years in business development. “This was the part of the state that was hardest hit. We’re freeing up hospitals. This program does help, and it works.” It has also helped Peoria-based OSF HealthCare, which acquired Little Company of Mary in February, introduce itself to the Chicago area. “Little Company of Mary has been a staunch Catholic beacon for the community,” Wasz said, adding that some people were afraid that might change. “What a way to come in. Their mission is ‘Serving with the greatest care and love.’” Delinski said the Pandemic Health Worker Program has also helped OSF develop its ability to provide care for patients at home, something that will be useful even after the pandemic ends. “This has given us the ability to deliver resources, to provide testing in the convenience of people’s homes,” she said.