Infection Prevention Training and Mentorship Helps Keep Nursing Homes Safe

By Kim Cassens and Melissa Lackey

While the A&M Rural and Community Health Institute has primarily focused on rural outreach, we can all appreciate the fact that COVID-19 is not rural-specific. Healthcare providers everywhere are stretched thin and in high demand in all types of facilitates and communities. Many work in multiple settings, rotating between shifts at local nursing homes, along with their hospital and clinic duties. This poses a unique risk of COVID-19 spread between facilities within local health systems through frontline workers; but with the right tools and training, we can significantly reduce the risk.

Federal data shows residents in nursing homes are highly susceptible to COVID-19 infection due to their age, underlying health conditions, and the communal nature of the facilities. This high transmission rate among residents, coupled with the closed loop of healthcare workers, creates a perfect storm for an increase of COVID-19 illness among this already vulnerable population.

That is why the Texas A&M Rural and Community Health Institute (ARCHI) is proud to serve as a training center for the National Nursing Home COVID-19 Action Network. We provide free virtual training and mentorship to staff from more than 300 nursing homes across the United States. Our efforts are focused on infection control, vaccine confidence and distribution, effective steps to respond to and limit spread of a positive COVID-19 case, and other topics to help nursing homes tackle COVID-19 and prepare for future public health emergencies. This training is supported by a team of physicians, infection control specialists, and experts in quality and safety. It consists of a 16-week curriculum, facilitated by weekly virtual presentations.

Providing technical assistance to healthcare facilities and their staff is the heart of our work. At the beginning of the pandemic many nursing homes were not given the materials, training or strategies they needed to keep residents safe—and facilities suffered greatly. That is why we applied to be a training center for the National Nursing Home COVID-19 Action Network. It gives us an opportunity to connect people, and support those seeking to address the challenges posed by the pandemic. While ARCHI’s past work has been primarily rural, this endeavor has allowed us to reach not only rural nursing homes, but larger corporate nursing homes, as well. The information sharing has been invaluable, combining knowledge from large facilities with the rural ingenuity we all appreciate.

“A huge benefit to participating in the program is really just being able to collaborate with other nursing homes in the community. Everyone shares what they’ve done right and wrong and we all learn from each other.” – Kim Jones, Quality and Compliance Director, Legacy Management Group, Louisiana

The ARCHI team is acutely familiar with this type of training. In two years, we have conducted more than 100 virtual teaching sessions to improve health outcomes nationwide using the Extension for Community Healthcare Outcomes (ECHO) model. It was developed by experts at the University of New Mexico to train providers in small towns to treat specific conditions and illnesses, giving rural residents access to excellent care close to home and helping their nearby providers stay up to date on training. It promotes an “all teach, all learn” platform that integrates real life scenarios with peer feedback. We believe that utilization of this specific format has been central to the success of our trainings.

Our goal is to ensure that the strategies we teach aren’t specific only to COVID-19, but that ECHO attendees can walk away from our trainings and apply what they have learned to future outbreaks and emergent situations with a sense of confidence and preparedness.

“It helps to hear what others are doing to address staff burnout, staffing shortages, resident loneliness, and all of the other things that we have encountered,” said an ECHO attendee. “It seems like the struggles will never end but having a support system within this network has helped.”

It is this type of learning community and support that we strive to build and are proud to lead. This truly has been a “feel-good’ project for all involved here at ARCHI and is a “win-win” for rural and urban communities alike. ARCHI will continue to offer this training for nursing home facilities who are interested.

Please email or for additional information.

The Network is a partnership between the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, the ECHO Institute, and the Institute for Healthcare Improvement.