Long term care providers in Nebraska are getting a helping hand in handling the COVID-19 pandemic. The Nebraska Health Care Foundation has been awarded $250,000 from the Donald E. Nielsen Foundation to enhance COVID-19 pandemic response via mentors in facilities. The funds are designated for the University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC) Partners in Preparedness Mentor Project.

Long term care facilities and critical access hospitals that opt into the service will be provided with an individual mentor who will connect with the facility designee on a daily basis.

The mentor will help to brainstorm strategies to follow national and state guidance, assist in the interpretation of changing recommendations, connect providers with resources, provide examples of best practices, and provide some words of encouragement.

“This project falls very much in line with the education-focused mission of the Nebraska Health Care Foundation,” says Heath Boddy, president and chief executive officer of the Nebraska Health Care Association. “We are grateful to be part of a project that will get critical support to those who are working to protect Nebraskans from COVID-19. These efforts would not be possible without the generosity of the Donald E. Nielsen Foundation,” he says.

“Our model is based on a practice used by the infection prevention arena for over 30 years,” says Sharon Medcalf, PhD, director of the Center for Biosecurity, Biopreparedness, and Emerging Infectious Diseases in the UNMC College of Public Health.

“Infection preventionists were assigned a mentor through their professional association, and then that mentor became that ‘lifeline’ for vetting ideas, strategies, and seeking consensus. This project aims to provide the same type of relationship to long term care and critical access hospitals to help response coordinators navigate through their facilities’ COVID-19 response.”

Mentors come from backgrounds in infection control, public health emergency preparedness, and long term care and critical access hospital preparedness. They draw upon collective experience during daily huddles and are able to share best practices within their own facilities or professions and share with all mentee sites.

Some examples of best practice topics include addressing resident mental well-being, options to engage residents, staff morale, task prioritization, and management to counter overuse of personal protective equipment. Of late, much discussion has gone into questions from mentees as they navigate through the relaxation of restrictions. 

“There is so much information from a variety of sources, and it changes rapidly,” says Matthew Beacom, MD, director of rural health for the UNMC College of Public Health and co-primary investigator for the Partners in Preparedness project. “It is helpful to have a team of experts watching for these recommendations and delivering them to the facilities in a uniform manner. The live mentorship and COVID-19 calls add great value in a very stressful situation.”

Currently, 56 nursing facilities, assisted living communities, critical access hospitals, and hospices are participating. One of the participants, Nye Health Services, is headquartered in Fremont, Neb., and has benefitted from meeting with Beacom.

“We have been blessed to experience the benefit of the Partners in Preparedness program for some time now with Dr. Matt Beacom,” says Kristin Harris, vice president of operations, Nye Health Services. “This pandemic has required our industry to collaborate in many new ways, truly trying to create a united front against this invisible enemy,” she says.

“Our clinical operations team has video meetings with Dr. Beacom daily. He understands the operational challenges in long term care and provides real-time guidance and prioritization of changes to our campuses and team members. The Partners in Preparedness program has provided guidance and confidence to our team in our most critical time of need, a truly priceless investment.”​