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Ideas Made to Matter

Coronavirus

How a simple calculator and job portal are fighting COVID-19

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What started as an effort by several MIT Sloan faculty members to allocate scarce COVID-19 resources through analytics has transformed into a supply chain for Massachusetts nursing homes in need of personal protective equipment and frontline personnel.

The COVID-19 Policy Alliance still offers policy proposals to state and federal government using analytics, said MIT Sloan professor but now it’s also calculating international PPE orders and partnering with Monster.com to match job-seekers with senior homes that are short on frontline workers.  

“We knew back in March that nursing homes were at risk of being hit particularly hard, just because of the vulnerable population of patients there, and because of the close quarters,” said Kellogg.

Nursing homes account for almost 60% of coronavirus-related deaths in Massachusetts. In April, Kellogg and MIT Sloan professorsandconnected with the Massachusetts Senior Care Association to find out what problems needed to be addressed for the state’s senior nursing facilities — namely, PPE and personnel shortages.

At the end of April, Massachusetts announced $130 million in emergency funding for long-term care facilities with the caveat that any site that took funding would be required to make public how they used the money, as well as adhere to a 28-point infection control competency checklist.

“Our partnership with the COVID-19 Policy Alliance was instrumental in convincing the state to make this necessary and vital investment in nursing home care,” said MSCA President Tara Gregorio.

Now the policy alliance is working with the senior care association, MIT, and the Harvard-affiliated Hebrew SeniorLife to help nursing homes meet the performance indicators for keeping patients and workers safe, Kellogg said. Here’s how they’re doing it:

Calculating equipment use

Three MIT Leaders for Global Operations students worked with Levi to build a calculator in Microsoft Excel to help individual nursing facilities determine what personal protective equipment — and how much — each would need for two months.

“Nursing homes are a lot of small facilities, and they all need supplies, but they can't be competing with states and major hospital systems for PPE because they don't have the same order quantities,” Kellogg said. “There needs to be a good, clear, affordable supply chain to get them the needed face shields, masks, and gowns.”

The calculator, built by Noa Ghersin, Ling Wang, and Nigel Goh, factors the total number of staff members at a particular nursing home and the percentage of staff that need daily protective equipment, and then multiplies that number out for two months.

About 75 nursing homes participated in the first order [worth about $1.2 million] with the help of MIT Sloan assistant professor Valerie Karplus, who connected the team to a larger bulk order from the state.

Wang said she and Ghersin are now trying to figure out how to do smart projections on the facilities’ behalf.

“We’re hoping that's a tool that MSCA can use to gauge the risk of running low on PPE supplies,” Wang said. “If they know they have 1 million masks coming in, it can take our number, subtract 1 million masks, and see ‘Hey, are we still good or do we need to keep looking for other resources?’”

A backup workforce

Along with the Massachusetts Senior Care Association, several MIT Executive MBA students and a LGO student, the alliance partnered with Monster.com to build a job portal targeting resident care assistants. These roles are designed for people who have never been in health care, but after completing a training course can assist certified nursing assistants.

“By partnering with Monster we’ve been able reach applicants who would have otherwise never considered a career at nursing homes,” said Or Dan, the LGO student who worked closely with MSCA and Monster to build the portal. “We’re continuously working with MSCA to create a streamlined hiring process and long-term career opportunities for candidates.”

In late April the Home to Help senior care initiative was launched. Close to 500 resumes have been submitted, about 75% with no prior health care experience, according to the alliance.

What’s next

Ghersin said the PPE calculator team is working to understand how to incorporate — and ensure accurate — infection rates into future equipment orders.

She said the team is also looking to “put together a playbook based on our experiences so far, where we will be capturing best practices … with an eye toward how can we take the successful aspects of our engagement here and use them to replicate that success elsewhere too.”

Johnson and a team of medical and biotech experts are also piloting a surveillance testing program in six nursing facilities in Massachusetts.

Kellogg said the alliance is working with Georgia and New Hampshire, where the group’s analytics work is being used for allocating resources and assisting nursing homes.

“As people who study management and management during crises, we want to help,” Kellogg said. “Not just study the problems, but get in and try to make a difference. The alliance has provided us with an infrastructure to do that.”