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Penn State Smeal contributes expertise and education to facilities on the front lines of COVID-19

September 8, 2020

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – The COVID-19 pandemic has affected nearly every part of society, but nursing homes and long-term care facilities have been especially hard hit. In Pennsylvania, residents of these facilities accounted for 70 percent of the state’s COVID-19 deaths – a total of nearly 5,000 people.

With fall and winter approaching and the virus still posing a serious threat, a new program will help these facilities keep their residents and staff safe.

The program is called the Regional Response Health Collaboration Program (RRHCP) and it’s funded by a grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services. This funding will enable select academic health systems to provide clinical, operational, and administrative support to more than 1,000 facilities across six regions of Pennsylvania.

Through Penn State College of Medicine, and under the direction of Dr. Nicole Osevala, interim chief of geriatric medicine and assistant professor of medicine and geriatrics, Penn State Health will serve the southcentral region of the state, which consists of 13 counties and 244 personal care homes and skilled nursing facilities.

While much of the RRHCP is focused on making sure the facilities are clinically prepared for infectious disease control, the program also provides operational support for these facilities, including access to much-needed personal protective equipment (PPE).

Enter the Penn State Smeal College of Business.

“Smeal is partnering with Penn State Health to provide expertise in two areas beyond clinical care at these sites: supply chain support and executive training and leadership,” said Susan Purdum, associate teaching professor of supply chain and information systems at Smeal.  

“With supply chain support, we can help find sources of PPE and, in some cases, even provide an immediate shipment of surge stock in case a site is suddenly infected with COVID-19,” Purdum says.

Purdum is part of a team that supports a 24/7 regional call center established for these facilities to contact when faced with an urgent incident regarding the pandemic. Incidences can range from talent shortages to training on proper donning and doffing of PPE to assistance in calculating usage rates for PPE. Some sites may call when faced with an emergency supply situation, such as a shortage of gowns or masks.

“Some facilities are large enough where they have the buying power to contract and negotiate for favorable terms with medical supply providers,” Purdum says. “Other sites are so small they don’t have the buying power and thus have difficulty securing supplies on a timely basis. If a site becomes infected, PPE requirements for that site can double or triple overnight. Managers have had to shop locally for substitutable supplies and have instituted severe conservation measures with clinical staff until PPE stock is resupplied.”

“If this happens, the site’s residents and staff are more vulnerable to infection,” she continues. “This is where the 24/7 call center comes in. We assess emergency supply situations and immediately coordinate distribution of the needed supplies from stockpiles that have been set up within the region.”

Purdum says there was much discussion regarding how much and what type of PPE to have on-hand. 

“Our historical demand was based on usage rates in a COVID-positive site and how many touch points a COVID-positive resident might receive during a 24-hour period,” she says. “I developed a budget for a certain amount of surge stock for our region based on what we thought the infection rate might be for the time period of the grant. I had to estimate usage rates for items like gloves, masks, face shields, hand sanitizers, thermometers, and isolation gowns. We are now working on certain warehousing considerations for PPE stock and other critical procedural care items assuming we might need this type of safety stock for the foreseeable future in the southcentral region.”

Smeal brings value to the RRHCP, says Purdum, because many of the problems associated with COVID-19 are supply chain related.

“What suppliers to use, how to assess and mitigate sourcing shortages, and how to quickly get supplies into the hands of clinicians are all things that have been major challenges during the pandemic,” she says. “We have a great supply chain program at Smeal and world-renowned faculty members. It just made sense for us to be a partner in this program. It’s been both an incredible opportunity and a challenge to be able to operationalize the goals of the RRHCP and set up this huge undertaking in a short period of time.”

In addition to contributing supply chain knowledge, Smeal is also bringing its expertise in executive and leadership development to the RRHCP. Representing the team for that part of the program is Sandy Clemmer of Penn State Executive Programs, the executive education provider within Smeal.  

“Penn State Executive Programs exists to help leaders develop themselves and their teams so they perform at optimal efficiency,” Clemmer says. “These are incredibly unusual times for the leaders of these personal care homes and skilled nursing facilities. As they’re prepping for an unknown future while grappling with how to lead their organizations, we’re going to offer them professional development opportunities on several useful topics. This is a unique opportunity for leaders of these organizations to take advantage of Smeal’s resources and faculty expertise.”   

Through the RRHCP, Penn State Executive Programs is offering five live remote programs taught by faculty members and expert practitioners. Programs being offered include content related to strategy, leadership, and supply chain management. The programs will all be digestible in length and will include group discussions, virtual breakout rooms for small-group activities, and time for networking with leaders at other facilities.

“These programs, and the supply chain help being provided by Sue Purdum and others, are about bringing the expertise found at Smeal to the people on the front lines of this pandemic,” Clemmer says. “Through these programs, it’s our hope that we can help them respond to leadership and supply chain challenges by adding new ideas and knowledge to their existing repertoire.”

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Andy Elder
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814-863-3798
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