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story.lead_photo.caption Karen Harbert

A senior epidemiologist in the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services was honored as the State Employee of the Month for October for her work on the agency's data collection system to track COVID-19 cases.

Karen Harbert has emerged as a "shining star" during the department's pandemic response, according to her coworkers.

In addition to maintaining her usual job duties supporting the Missouri Maternal, Infant and Early Childhood Home Visiting program, as well as supervising and training new staff members, Harbert constructed a complete data collection and reporting infrastructure for the Bureau of Epidemiology and Vital Statistics in REDCap, a web application that allows creation and management of online surveys and databases.

In nominating Harbert for the honor, department epidemiologist Rebecca Lander noted community COVID-19 testing efforts, nursing home surveillance and positive case tracking and reporting would not have been nearly as successful without Harbert's work on the system.

"Her system allows DHSS users, local health agencies, and labs (such as Quest) to easily share results of the COVID-19 tests processed, monitor community testing, and track information on positive cases shared with local health agencies," Lander wrote.

Harbert and her team have been working to ensure things run as smoothly as possible in the background of Missouri's efforts to monitor and manage the current epidemic, according to Daniel Quay, senior research and data analyst in the department.

Quay observed: "She has devoted time during the evenings and weekends to ensure users were added promptly, she has taught new users how to work within the REDCap system, she has developed multiple databases and coordinated with analysis teams to ensure databases remain useable even as they are changing."

Harbert is credited with taking additional initiative in training a team of epidemiology staff members to provide redundancy in the event she becomes ill or unavailable, while she continues to take the lead in developing and maintaining the REDCap projects.

"Though many staff have been putting in extra time and effort to support COVID-19 response," Lander wrote, "Karen has been consistently working 55-60 hour weeks for the past three months, and has accepted the extra workload gracefully."

Harbert, who lives in Jefferson City, has served five years with DHSS.

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