New partnership seeks to boost nursing home safety

Liz Seegert

About Liz Seegert

Liz Seegert (@lseegert), is AHCJ’s topic editor on aging. Her work has appeared in NextAvenue.com, Journal of Active Aging, Cancer Today, Kaiser Health News, the Connecticut Health I-Team and other outlets. She is a senior fellow at the Center for Health Policy and Media Engagement at George Washington University and co-produces the HealthCetera podcast.

PPE for nursing homes

Photo: Scouse Smurf via Flickr

A new partnership will provide free training and mentorship to nursing homes across the country to improve evidence-based infection prevention and safety practices.

The National Nursing Home COVID Action Network is a collaboration by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), the University of New Mexico’s ECHO Institute in Albuquerque and the Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI) in Boston. The goal is to further protect residents and staff from the SARS-COV-2 virus.

Formed under an AHRQ contract worth up to $237 million, the network part of the nearly $5 billion Provider Relief Fund authorized earlier this year under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES). While $2.5 billion already has been distributed to obtain testing, personal protective equipment and other supplies, an additional $2 billion is available for Medicare and Medicaid-certified nursing homes that improve infection control.

We know that nursing home residents are especially vulnerable to COVID-19 due to age, underlying frailty, and communal living conditions. The nursing home staff who care for them are among the most needed and most at-risk essential workers. According to The New York Times, some 77,000 nursing home residents and staff have died as of mid-September from the virus — about 40% of total U.S. deaths.

The ECHO (Extension for Community Healthcare Outcomes) Institute is recruiting academic medical centers and large health centers across the country to serve as training centers for local nursing homes. Over 15,000 nursing homes certified to participate in the Medicare and Medicaid programs will be able to participate in a 16-week training using a standardized curriculum developed by the IHI. Nursing homes that actively participate are eligible to receive $6,000 in compensation to cover staff training time.

While the curriculum will continue to be refined as new evidence emerges and the pandemic evolves, according to AHRQ, topics to be covered in the early weeks include:

  • Best practices in the use of personal protective equipment for COVID-19.
  • Making the environment safe during COVID-19 through infection control practices.
  • Minimizing the spread of COVID-19.
  • COVID-19 testing.
  • Clinical management of asymptomatic and mild cases of COVID-19.
  • Managing social isolation during COVID.

“Collaborative education and shared learning is critical for our nonprofit nursing home members on the front line of this pandemic, under often challenging conditions,” Katie Smith Sloan, president and CEO of LeadingAge, said in a statement. “Access to mentors, local experts, community peers, and resources, with a focus on continuous improvement, will go a long way to help mitigate the virus’ spread and ensure the health and safety of older adults.”

The new network’s training program will use the evidence-based process pioneered by Project ECHO and referred to as the ECHO Model, an interactive, case-based approach based on adult learning principles.

Project ECHO was established in 2004 to provide training and telementoring for health care professionals and staff across the nation and around the world. It includes over 250 training partners throughout the United States. AHRQ funded the initial establishment and evaluation of Project ECHO.

Journalists may want to explore whether local nursing homes plan to participate in this program and what other training is underway to improve infection control, patient and worker safety? How are local facilities handling visitors, which CMS now permits as long as certain criteria are met?

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