New program to help Indiana nursing homes prevent, slow the spread of COVID-19

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INDIANAPOLIS — The state of Indiana is weeks away from rolling out a new program to help nursing homes amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The Indiana University Fairbanks School of Public Health at IUPUI, Indiana University School of Medicine and the Regenstrief Institute teamed up to provide what’s being called Project ECHO.

Project ECHO allows nursing homes the opportunity to participate in weekly 90 minute calls to help them address operational issues related to COVID-19 and prevent future outbreaks.

“The focus and intent of ECHO – and this is absolutely true for the nursing home ECHO program being launched – is for peers to learn from each other,” said Dr. Kathleen Unroe, a scientist with Regenstrief Institute.

Dr. Unroe said nursing homes who wish to participate will be divided into groups of no more than thirty. She adds while the call will begin with experts’ presentations, the conversation is meant to develop “case-based learning.”

“The hope is that much of the discussion will be driven by these cases that the nursing homes themselves bring forward,” Dr. Unroe said.

“The collaboration across companies and across peer groups is going to be something that we have not been able to stop and breathe to do since March,” said President of the Indiana Healthcare Association, Zach Cattell.

Cattell said the opportunity to be mentored and led by expert facilitators will be helpful.

“Within those discussions, solutions that are readily implementable are developed and shared among the entire group,” said Cattell. “[Topics] could be around best practices to efficiently administer testing — which we’ve been doing for some time — but that collaborative sharing of information is really the goal so that all can improve together.”

The program will begin with a 16-week curriculum but assistance will be available year-round. Dr. Unroe said daily topics could include PPE storage and distribution, on-site testing, staffing, and best practices for infection control.

According to the state’s health department, 58% of the state’s total COVID-19 deaths have happened in long-term care facilities.

Recruitment for Project ECHO began on October 27 and Dr. Unroe said the first call is tentatively planned for November 9.

The program began as a nation-wide initiative. However, Indiana is one of the first states to roll out the program. Project ECHO is funded by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

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