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USI joins initiative to help nursing homes during pandemic

Updated: Feb. 5, 2021 at 10:27 AM CST
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EVANSVILLE, Ind. (WFIE) - Officials with the University of Southern Indiana say that 31 nursing homes have enrolled in the school’s effort to assist facilities in dealing with COVID-19 along with its challenges.

USI is part of the Indiana Nursing Home COVID-19 Action Network (NHCAN) Extension of Community Healthcare Outcomes (ECHO), which aims to improve COVID-19 preparedness, safety and infection control.

School officials say more than 230 nursing homes from across Indiana are participating in the ECHO project.

As of Fall 2020, nearly one-quarter of the known COVID-19 deaths in the United States were nursing home residents and staff, according to AHRQ. One of the goals of the ECHO program is to help nursing homes implement evidence-based best practices to prevent outbreaks and identify any infections early.

Dr. Karl Sash, a physician and medical director at St. Vincent, said the weekly meetings have been effective and a positive experience for all.

“This model gives nursing home staff a chance to interact with peers and facilitators to share their challenges and experiences to support each other,” Dr. Sash said. “And have an open venue to ask questions and find resources.”

Each call includes a presentation of COVID-related best practices and guidance, implementation and quality improvement techniques and case-based discussions to identify successes and challenges experienced at the facility-level.

“At the same time as facilities and staff in facilities are trying to protect their patients physically, they’re also seeing the emotional toll isolation is taking on their residents,” Dr. Sash said.

Some of the topics covered in these calls include:

  • Vaccines: Expected arrival, storage. How to share educational materials with staff, residents and families.
  • Infection control: Use of personal protective equipment (PPE). How to cohort positive and negative COVID-19 residents in a facility.
  • Staffing shortages: Practical tips and short-term solutions.

Bethel Manor, a nursing home in Evansville, is one of the hundreds of facilities implementing USI’s ECHO initiative.

“This USI Project ECHO has been really great for nursing homes like us whenever it comes to collaboration,” said Josh Bowman, an administrator at Bethel Manor.

Over 2,000 nursing home residents and staff members in Indiana have died since the pandemic hit. He hopes this initiative will help.

“One of my patients I had cared for for years, very strong man, a retired priest, he battled through chronic medical problems. He just battled, and COVID killed him,” Sash said. “For those people who think these old people in nursing homes aren’t as precious as everyone else, you’re wrong.”

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