Goal: Improve care facilities' response to outbreaks

by Greg Brown, UNMC College of Public Health | February 01, 2021

Image with caption: From left, Deborah Levy, PhD, Keith Hansen, and Matthew Beacom, MD

From left, Deborah Levy, PhD, Keith Hansen, and Matthew Beacom, MD

The UNMC College of Public Health Center for Biosecurity, Bio-preparedness, & Emerging Infectious Diseases (CBBEID) has launched a multi-faceted initiative in conjunction with Project ECHO (Extension for Community Healthcare Outcomes) that seeks to improve the response to COVID-19 and future infectious disease outbreaks in nursing homes and critical access hospitals.

The program, currently in its first phase, is focusing on the education of nursing home staff, residents and family of residents through a 16-week tele-mentoring program that will improve the safety of nursing home facilities during the pandemic.

The 16-week curriculum was "designed to create virtual communities of learners by bringing together health care providers and subject matter experts using videoconferencing technology, brief lecture presentations and case-based or situation-based learning," said Deborah Levy, PhD, co-director of CBBEID.

The curriculum also includes exclusive COVID-19 materials such as response guides, actionable tools and other specialized content that was developed through collaboration between the UNMC College of Public Health, the ECHO Institute at the University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, the Institute for Healthcare Improvement and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

"The diverse program content covers topics that range from basic sanitation to advanced epidemiological processes, and even unexpected subjects such as vaccine awareness and education," said Keith Hansen, director of the Center for Preparedness Education.

Currently in its 11th week, the culmination of the program will result in 15,000 nursing homes across the U.S. implementing evidence-based best practices that have been shown to help prevent COVID-19 from entering nursing homes while also preventing spread of COVID-19 in nursing homes that do become compromised. Additionally, patient care guidelines have been established, providing better care for residents and staff who test positive for COVID-19.

The second phase of the initiative will provide mentorship to critical access hospitals for responding to infectious disease outbreaks using the ECHO model. Through education, mentorship and a case-study format that will aid in their response to COVID-19 and future infectious disease outbreaks, an ECHO hub will be established. The hub will allow for discussion of common issues through monthly conversations about strategies such as designing and implementing new guidance and dealing with surges in patients.

The ECHO hub also will be used for sharing best practices and lessons learned among the critical access hospitals. In turn, new information will be compiled and turned into operational tools that will assist health care facilities in preparing for and effectively responding to future outbreaks.

"The end goal is the strengthening of critical access hospital capabilities to increase capacity and resilience to the COVID-19 pandemic while also improving their ability to respond when future infectious disease outbreaks occur," said Matthew Beacom, MD, director of rural health at the UNMC College of Public Health.

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