The university helps nursing homes address their pandemic needs through Project ECHO


Photo by: Josh Meredith

Bethel Manor, located off Kratzville Road, is one of the nursing facilities benefiting from the university’s ECHO initiative.

Shelby Clark, Staff Writer

Editor’s Note: The Shield previously reported incorrectly who directs the Indiana Nursing Home COVID-19 Action Network ECHO, it is actually Kathleen Unroe. The Shield also corrected the spelling of a name.                  

The Indiana Nursing Home COVID-19 Action Network ECHO is a project dedicated to creating an open environment for nursing homes to discuss COVID-19 related issues and needs. The state is divided into eight cohorts. Each cohort is led by a hub team who leads a 16 week interactive Zoom with around 30 to 40 nursing homes. 

Participating nursing homes decide which cohort they would like to be in based upon the Zoom schedule. The university’s hub team started their 16 week interactive Zoom with 31 nursing homes across Indiana in December.

Katie Ehlman, professor of gerontology and director of the university’s Center for Healthy Aging and Wellness, is leading the university’s hub team. 

Ehlman said the federal organization Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality is funding the AHRQ through Project Extension of Community Healthcare Outcomes.

Project ECHO is a national educational healthcare platform from The University of New Mexico that allows for education in the healthcare field to occur via Zoom. 

The Indiana Nursing Home COVID-19 Action Network ECHO is under the direction of Kathleen Unroe from Indiana University. 

“(Unroe) initiated a statewide collaborative project where we would work with different hubs around the state, and USI is one of those hubs,” Ehlman said. 

According to Ehlman, the university’s hub team consists of a physician, nurse practitioner, the service facilitator and a university graduate student. When Ehlman was contacted by Unroe to lead the hub, she said she knew it would be a good fit and a way the university could respond to a need of the community.

“When we think about the university, we think about being an engaged partner with different industries, and I think this definitely an example of being an engaged partner, ” Ehlman said. “The work that we do not only in the classroom, but the work that we do with our community has that spirit of engagement in mind.” 

According to Ehlman, some of the topics addressed in the Zoom include how to cohort residents, infection control visitation, COVID-19 vaccine and hesitations and the emotional stress for staff. 

Ehlman said the university has always supported initiatives supporting nursing homes and long term care industries. She said she believes the project aligns with the university’s dedication to this area of healthcare. 

“We’re looking at being leaders in our community and where we have the opportunity to serve our community. Not only in industry and the staff who work in the long term care industry but most importantly, the residents and the families of those residents,” Ehlman said.

Ehlman said the philosophy of the ECHO is to build a community of learners. 

“I think the beauty of the project is that the nursing homes, at least the 30 or so that we’re working with, are sharing ideas together,” Ehlman said. 

Over 230 nursing homes are participating in the program in Indiana, according to Ehlman. She said this roughly represents about 50% of nursing homes in the state. 

Ehlman is hopeful that the project combined with the COVID-19 vaccine will help rates of mortality and morbidity decrease. “It’s important that the nursing homes are part of the community,” Ehlman said. 

She said the university’s hub is a great group of talented individuals who each bring their expertise together under the philosophy of the ECHO that learning occurs together. 

The IUPUI ECHO Center is in charge of enrollment into the ECHO program for the state. 

Andrea Janota, director of the IUPUI ECHO Center, said she was drawn to the university because of the university’s expertise in geriatric care. Janota said working with the university and Ehlman has been a remarkable experience. 

“She’s so caring. She would do anything for these nursing homes, and that’s just something amazing to see people who want to invest their time, their talents into nursing homes that are really struggling right now with COVID,” Janota said. 

Janota said the ECHO program is great for health care workers. “Additionally, we’ve heard that this has been an opportunity for people to feel like they’re in a safe space to share what’s going on in their nursing home and to learn from others who are in the same field,” Janota said.

There are eight active cohorts and there will soon be nine, according to Janota. 

Angileta Trammell, the director of nursing at Summerfield Health Care Center, said she was glad their nursing home joined project ECHO. 

Summerfield Health Care Center is located in Cloverdale, IN and is a part of the university’s cohort.

“We have gained a lot of support,” Trammell said. “We don’t feel as lonely in the world of COVID. There’s other people, and we get to hear experiences.” 

Trammell said her overall hope for the program is for Summerfield Health Care Center to stay connected with other nursing homes across the state. “I feel like it’s brought a lot of us together and a lot more of us talk and meet new people,” Trammell said.

Trammell said working with the university hub team has been nice. She said they have been helpful and answered all of their questions. 

Besides connecting with other nursing homes, Trammell said she has found new resources to learn about new laws and procedures regarding COVID-19.