COVID-19 continues to put nursing home leaders and their staff through the wringer.

Across the country, case rates in the general population are rising again. At the same time, the financial survival of many nursing homes is on the line. Some federal provider relief payments will be tied to improved infection control through the end of the year.

As nursing homes work even harder to protect their residents and staff while grappling with the devastating impacts of isolation and loneliness, they are told to do more. 

But there is something nursing home leaders can do to lighten the load and even get ahead of the coronavirus crisis: Join the new National Nursing Home COVID-19 Action Network, which supports nursing homes around the country in their fight against COVID-19. 

This is a unique opportunity for access to up-to-the minute guidance and conversations on how to protect residents and staff from the virus. Staff of member nursing homes are part of a community of practice, where they can learn not only from experts but learn from and teach their peers.

Collaborating for quality, safety

The network is a partnership of the federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, the Institute for Healthcare Improvement and Project ECHO. It pairs the lead federal research agency for improving health care quality and safety with the country’s foremost experts on quality improvement and a globally recognized model for scaling up health expertise quickly in communities.

 The priority deadline for registration for nursing homes is November 13.

It’s free, voluntary, collaborative and proactive – not punitive.  It’s something that many nursing homes have requested for years: comprehensive, timely technical assistance. 

David Gifford, M.D., chief medical officer at AHCA and NCAL.

You’re already getting numerous directives from states and federal agencies. This isn’t another one. In fact, we believe this will really help support your efforts to figure out how to meet and implement all the requirements already out there.

And if reporters, surveyors or potential residents ask what you’re doing to address the quality challenges of COVID and protect residents, participating in Project ECHO’s continuous improvement collaboratives demonstrates a proactive approach to staying on top of all the federal recommendations. 

Taking a proactive approach

Here’s how the network will operate: Training centers across the country (think academic medical centers or large health systems with access to geriatricians and infectious disease experts) will run 16-session, virtual communities of practice focused on preventing and reducing the spread of COVID-19 in nursing homes. Using Project ECHO’s “all teach, all learn” guided mentorship model, expert teams at each training center will share best practices and use case-based learning to support the on-the-ground efforts of staff from up to 35 nursing homes.

In this way, staff will learn from experts and from each other, and the expert team will gain valuable insights from the direct experience of community providers.

After all, you’re the experts too.  You’ve had to learn how to combat this virus on your own over the past months – and you have a lot to share. 

In this program, nursing home staff are not passive recipients of outside knowledge. They are equal participants in an effort to reduce the impact of COVID-19 in their facilities, and they bring with them their own frontline experience and wisdom.

In recognition, each nursing home that completes the 16-week training will receive $6,000 through the Provider Relief Fund. We think of this not as compensation for staff time, but more as an honorarium for the value that nursing home staff add to the program. Staff will also earn continuing education units for completing the training.

After months of struggling against the pandemic, we still face enormous challenges ahead. It is imperative that we do everything we can to equip staff with the knowledge and guidance they need to protect residents and themselves.

This is the collaboration you’ve been wanting. The network will help members navigate change and complexity, and it will bring support and empowerment to frontline staff who have been battered down for far too long.

You’re doing so much already. But we don’t want to get to the other side of this pandemic and regret not taking advantage of this opportunity to learn from your peers and experts.

Joining the National Nursing Home COVID-19 Action Network is a positive step that you can take, right now. We hope you will.

Ruth Katz is the senior vice president of Public Policy & Advocacy at LeadingAge. David Gifford, M.D., is the chief medical officer at the American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living.