Great adversity often fuels tremendous ingenuity, and the COVID-19 pandemic is no exception. Recently, the Commonwealth of Virginia validated this point when it expanded its ground-breaking Framework for Addiction Analysis and Community Transformation (FAACT) platform in just a few days to help navigate the COVID-19 crisis and provide public safety.

Today, the platform, built on Amazon Web Services (AWS) solutions, serves as a central location for securing and sharing critical COVID-19 response data across Virginia. It includes data as diverse as the number of cases, private/state testing volumes and results, hospital resource levels, personal protective equipment (PPE) levels, intensive care unit bed and ventilator availability, healthcare staffing levels, and more.

The FAACT platform drives a set of near real-time analytics for Governor Ralph Northam and his team to use as they make evidence-based response decisions and provide daily updates. This insight was particularly important in the early days of COVID-19 and played a role in the Commonwealth’s ability to provide PPE where it was needed and ensure adequate healthcare resources, including hospital beds, throughout the crisis.

While the Commonwealth quickly scaled the FAACT platform at the onset of the COVID-19, the seeds for success started in 2018 in the midst of another public health crisis, the opioid epidemic, according to Carlos Rivero, chief data officer for the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Opioid abuse has claimed the lives of more than 1,000 Virginians each year recently. As the crisis grew, public officials required more insight into communities at greatest risk, paths to addiction, changes in supplies, hospitalizations, and interaction with law enforcement. Unfortunately, the data needed to yield these critical insights resides in various silos within and outside government. The Commonwealth needed a platform and structure that would allow users to connect these data points rapidly and securely.

The answer was FAACT, a platform that shares data across government agencies and local organizations. The Commonwealth contracted with AWS Partner Network (APN) Consulting Partner, Qlarion Inc. to develop the FAACT platform, built on AWS Cloud services.

Agencies and organizations that participate in FAACT have access to the type of cross-functional, high-impact data and analysis needed to drive critical decisions as they respond to the opioid crisis and other complex challenges related to substance use and addiction.

Rivero and his team knew that trust would be fundamental to a successful initiative as the platform would bring together data assets from a broad range of public agencies, including law enforcement, as well as private organizations, such as healthcare providers. To this end, the team created the Commonwealth Data Trust, managed by Rivero and a governance council that includes representatives from participating organizations and agencies. The Data Trust is a safe, secure, and legally compliant information-sharing environment that promotes trust among members through common rules for data security, privacy, and confidentiality.

“FAACT was the Commonwealth’s first cross-agency, cloud-based data sharing platform,” explained Rivero. “We had to be able to incorporate a wide range of data from government and private entities quickly with little friction. The platform had to be flexible and ensure high levels of security. AWS delivers on these requirements and more.”

Since going live, FAACT has had a powerful impact. “From a real-world benefits perspective, we can see patterns and trends in data sets that have allowed communities to respond more rapidly and effectively,” Rivero said. “For example, we gained insight into the true age of first use for various drugs so communities can better target outreach and education efforts.”

Fast forward to the COVID-19 pandemic. Rivero and his team immediately recognized the ability to scale the FAACT platform for this new mission. A few factors were critical to this flexibility. First, the Data Trust was already in place making it simple to onboard new data sources. In addition, the AWS-based platform enabled rapid and frictionless loading of these new data sources while providing security. Scalability, simplicity, and security once again were the foundation for success­—AWS delivered all three.

“Without FAACT’s technical infrastructure, legal framework, and corresponding Data Trust already in place, secure cross-agency sharing of sensitive health-related data that took just days to complete would have taken months,” Rivero said. “Our ability to quickly expand FAACT is a prime example of the immense value of a repeatable model that can be leveraged quickly and effectively in a time of need.”

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