Press Release Date: September 29, 2020
The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) is partnering with the University of New Mexico’s ECHO Institute in Albuquerque and the Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI) in Boston to establish a National Nursing Home COVID Action Network. The network will provide free training and mentorship to nursing homes across the country to increase the implementation of evidence-based infection prevention and safety practices to protect residents and staff.
Nursing home residents are especially vulnerable to SARS-COV-2 (COVID-19) due to their age, their underlying frailty, and their communal living conditions. And nursing home staff who care for them are among the most needed and most at-risk essential workers. It is estimated that almost 56,000 nursing home residents and staff have died from COVID-19, representing more than one-quarter of the nation’s known COVID-19 deaths.
"Protecting vulnerable older Americans in nursing homes is a central part of our fight against COVID-19, and we’ve learned that improving infection control in many nursing homes is not a matter of will but of skill," said HHS Secretary Alex Azar. "AHRQ is deploying its unique expertise in partnership with Project ECHO and IHI to help nursing homes protect both their residents and staff from the virus, slowing the spread and saving lives."
"Expanding the use of proven safety practices will directly benefit nursing home residents and staff members and help save lives," said AHRQ Director Gopal Khanna, M.B.A. "AHRQ has a proven track record of producing science and research to address critical needs such as responding to COVID-19 and achieving 21st century care for all Americans. We are pleased to be working with the ECHO Institute and IHI on this new initiative."
The new network is being created under an AHRQ contract worth up to $237 million that is part of the nearly $5 billion Provider Relief Fund authorized earlier this year under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. While $2.5 billion has already been distributed to help fund testing, personal protective equipment, and other supplies, another $2 billion is available for Medicare and Medicaid-certified nursing homes that show improvement in infection control.
The ECHO 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 that are certified to participate in the Medicare and Medicaid programs will be able to participate in a 16-week training program 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, 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.
Weekly virtual training sessions will be facilitated by small multidisciplinary teams of subject matter and quality improvement experts. Sessions will combine short lectures that provide immediately usable best practices with case-based group learning. Between sessions, a robust community of practice will foster peer-to-peer learning supported by additional expert consultation.
"Collaborative education and shared learning is critical for our nonprofit nursing home members on the front line of this pandemic, under often challenging conditions," said Katie Smith Sloan, president and CEO of LeadingAge. "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."
Sanjeev Arora, M.D., Project ECHO’s director and founder, said he looks forward to leading the initiative in partnership with AHRQ. "At a time when the dissemination of best practices in health care is more critical than ever, we are honored to help address this urgent need for nursing homes," he said.
Project ECHO (Extension for Community Healthcare Outcomes) was established to provide training and telementoring for health care professionals and staff across the nation and around the world. It includes over 250 training partners across the United States. AHRQ funded the initial establishment and evaluation of Project ECHO beginning in 2004. The new network’s training program will use the evidence-based process pioneered by Project ECHO and referred to as the ECHO Model, which is an interactive, case-based approach based on adult learning principles.
"The ECHO model is a proven approach that brings experts and providers together to learn and solve clinical and operational challenges," said Mark Parkinson, President and CEO for the American Health Care Association/National Center for Assisted Living. "We strongly encourage providers to participate in the COVID Action Network to get access to experts and learn the latest best practices to prevent the spread of COVID-19."