Share Tweet Share Email

Engineering team helps keep COVID vaccine lines to a minimum

February 25, 2021

Top row, left to right: Student Neha Benny Mathews, NIU Professor Purush Damodaran, Josh Male-Munoz of EEH, NIU Professor Shanthi Muthuswamy, Raj Iyer of EEH. Bottom row, left to right: Students Shubham Shirude, Patrick Wasilewski, Seshaiya Srinivasan

Standing in long lines to receive the COVID vaccine is one of the major concerns facing those who are eligible for the vaccine. As many of those eligible at this time are seniors, standing in long lines may put the patients at risk of exposure to the disease while waiting in line to get the vaccine. That’s precisely why Edward-Elmhurst Health (EEH) in Warrenville enlisted the help of NIU’s College of Engineering and Engineering Technology faculty and students to keep wait time to a minimum.

Funded with a grant from the health system, a team of professors and graduate students has developed a simulation model to determine exactly how many staff are required and logistical set-up required for the system to accommodate the maximum number of patients for vaccination, while keeping the line and the process as short as possible.

With a ramp-up goal of 1,760 vaccinations per day, the NIU team, consisting of two professors and four graduate students, determined that patients would indeed encounter long waiting times with the initial staffing plan. After conducting a what-if analysis using a simulation model, the team recommended alternate staffing plans at various stages of the entire vaccination process (e.g. check-in, registration, vaccinators, observers, etc.)

Professor Shanthi Muthuswamy, Ph.D. of the Department of Engineering Technology said, “We are honored to be working with EEH on this momentous project which has a direct positive impact on our community.”

Utilizing simulation and Lean Six Sigma principles among other process improvement techniques, Muthuswamy, along with Professor Purush Damodaran, Ph.D. of the Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering and graduate students (Neha Benny Mathews, Shubham Shirude, Seshaiya Srinivasan, and Patrick Wasilewski), have created a model taking into consideration the layout of the vaccination center and complying with fire codes and the CDC’s COVID safety guidelines.

“The simulation model gave us an opportunity to understand the conceptual plan and analyze its impact on the patients and staff members involved at the vaccination clinic,” said Damodaran. “This greatly helped to optimize the resources so the patients don’t have to wait long and the staff doesn’t feel overwhelmed in achieving their daily goals.”

The researchers studied the floor plan, determined the number of staff needed, patient ingress and egress, placement of hand sanitizing and temperature check stations, and the number of chairs needed in the waiting area where patients spend a few minutes after vaccination. The model that resulted is interactive and can be adjusted as needed based on changes in staffing, supplies, and other variables.

Raj Iyer, EEH’s Chief Analytics and Data Officer commended NIU’s efforts. He said the NIU partnership has reinvigorated the process improvement mentality at all levels in the organization. “The NIU team offers EEH a comprehensive approach to arriving at solutions and create a feedback loop for continuous improvements,” he said.

He explained that the simulation models, the walkthroughs, Lean Six Sigma principles, and other process improvement tools/techniques used by the team leave no stone unturned. The outcome of this work has made a significant impact on the execution of the vaccination clinics.

“Process improvement at EEH is not an afterthought, but a significant partner at the table. We appreciate the collaboration and hope to continue this relationship for years to come,” said Iyer.

Blake Lindley, EEH’s System Director for Process Improvement noted that the partnership with NIU has been extremely beneficial, especially the simulation related to COVID response, which allowed for EEH to quickly understand what resources would be needed to meet the targets established by leadership. “We are thrilled with what this partnership has brought to all parties involved,” said Lindley.

Josh Male-Munoz, EEH’s Process Improvement Manager concurred with his team and added that the NIU faculty and students’ involvement in designing and simulating the vaccination clinic’s process was integral to the operational success on opening day. “Their keen understanding of process and insights from observations allowed for the clinic to reach peak first dose capacity a week ahead of schedule,” he said.

“Partnerships like this one between our faculty and grad students with institutions like EEH is such a win-win situation for both organizations,” said Dean Donald Peterson, Ph.D. of NIU’s College of Engineering and Engineering Technology. “It’s exciting for us to be able to use our resources and skills in a way that benefits the community, and our students gain valuable knowledge that they will take into the world with them after graduation.”