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Federal grant to UNM to help nursing homes battle COVID-19

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A signature University of New Mexico program received more than $200 million in federal funding to help nursing homes keep COVID-19 at bay.

UNM’s Project ECHO, which uses video-conferencing technology to connect health providers in underserved areas with teams of specialists, will receive up to $237 million from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Sanjeev Arora, Project ECHO’s director and founder, said the money will be used to establish a network of training programs designed to give nursing homes across the country the best information to fight the virus. Arora said the 16-week curriculum for participating nursing homes will provide information that ranges from how to keep infected patients from spreading the disease to guidance on reusing personal protective equipment.

Sanjeev Arora

“There’s a tremendous curriculum, which is essentially the essence of the world’s best practices,” Arora told the Journal.

Nursing homes are particularly vulnerable to the worst impacts of the virus. According to numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, around 56,000 residents and workers have died from the disease at nursing homes and other long-term care facilities.

This total constitutes around more than a quarter of the total fatalities associated with the pandemic in the United States.

“The risk of getting COVID-19 and dying from it, if you were living in a nursing home, was absolutely enormous,” Arora said.

Earlier this year, Congress allocated around $5 billion to protect the approximately 15,400 nursing homes operating around the country. Arora said about half of that funding went directly toward helping nursing homes acquire equipment and attract staffers, but some of that money is intended to help nursing homes develop best practices.

The program will provide 16 90-minute courses for nursing home staff, using its network of health partners. To compensate participating nursing homes for their time, the program will pay $6,000 to nursing homes that go through the program.

For Project ECHO, founded in 2003 in order to connect underserved populations through video technology, Arora said the funding provides an opportunity to create a model for spreading health knowledge to care providers across the country.

“At the end of the day, our mission is to improve health care for underserved people all over the world,” Arora said.

He added that the framework can be expanded to other areas of study once the health crisis abates, using the same basic framework to address other health issues.

“Since all our efforts are dedicated to COVID-19, a lot of other health care is suffering,” he said.

Arora said Wednesday the program is expected to launch within the next 10 days.

“We want to do it as soon as possible, because the need is now,” he said.

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