Maine AHEC Network providing COVID-19-related training to health professionals and students
Elizabeth Mann, RN, M.S.N., PHNA, clinical educator for public health practice at the Center for Excellence in Public Health (CEPH); Jennifer Gunderman, M.P.H., director of the Maine Area Health Education Center (AHEC) Network; and Micaela Maynard, primary care training and enhancement project assistant, have developed and implemented a continuing education program that connects health professionals across the state and seeks to increase their knowledge of COVID-19.
The name of the program is the COVID-19 Matters in Maine Project ECHO. Mann is the program manager.
“Our goals are to really build a virtual learning community through which participants learn best practices and improve knowledge about prevention, preparation, and response to COVID-19’s immediate and long-term impacts,” she explained. “It is tailored to address relevant and timely issues related to COVID-19 impacts on patients, populations, providers, and systems across the state.”
The program provides a twist on the Project ECHO (Extension for Community Healthcare Options) model, an evidence-based method developed by a physician and research team at the University of New Mexico. In the traditional model, ECHO virtually connects specialists in urban areas with primary care providers in rural areas, where access to specialty care may be limited. The team of experts shares information and knowledge through case-based learning with their rural colleagues, providing specialist input designed to help providers give a specialty level of care to their complex patients that otherwise would not be available in a timely manner.
“Our program is a real opportunity to connect health professionals and peers to get feedback, not just on individual patient cases, but on population or systems-level challenges,” Mann said. “We have very robust and rich discussions where everyone shares ideas, information, and provides recommendations to the case presenter, who can then try to apply them in whatever way they think is feasible within their own practice.”
Professional staff from CEPH, the Maine AHEC Network, and UNE’s Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning (CETL) compose the UNE “hub team,” providing medical, nursing and public health expertise. They meet monthly with a diverse cohort of health professionals from across the state, representing a variety of backgrounds, practices, and geographic settings.
“UNE has been interested in how we might be able to get involved in the Echo model for a long time,” Mann stated. “Colleagues in the School of Nursing and Population Health were the first to develop a program, and recently the UNE ECHO Hub has been established within CETL. We are really excited for Maine AHEC to be one of the early adopters of this model at UNE.”
Katie Santanello (D.O., ’24), is the student representative on the team.
“I really just want to try to soak it all in and see what they find important and what topics they discuss,” she said. “I think the experts in rural communities have so much to share with those in urban settings, because oftentimes those providers are learning to do a lot with so much less and fewer resources.”
Santanello will become a physician for the United States Navy after graduation. She has already spent time in the Department of Infectious Diseases at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital.
“We were doing a lot of flu research there and then COVID came around and we sort of pivoted a bit to include some COVID-19 research in our study,” she commented. “So, that was really just ramping up by the time that I had to leave to come to medical school and I was really interested in that initial research push.”
“It is really a unique learning opportunity for Katie to see behind the scenes of how people in practice, administration, and leadership positions work through these issues and challenges,” Mann added. “We also recognize that the student brings a unique perspective to these cases, seeing them with fresh eyes and bringing fresh ideas.”
The first session focused on the confluence of seasonal flu and COVID-19. Future topics will include building trust with patients around the release of a COVD-19 vaccine, promoting empathy within telehealth visits, and managing the long-term health implications of COVID-19 infection.
The ECHO series, made possible by CARES Act funding via the Health Services and Resources Administration (HRSA) specifically for AHECs around the country, began in October and will run through April 2021. More information about the Project ECHO series can be found at https://sites.une.edu/projectecho/.
Registrations continue to be accepted through December 14th.