WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.), along with U.S. Senators Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) and U.S. Representatives Deb Haaland (D-N.M.) and Xochitl Torres Small (D-N.M.), applauded the announcement of a contract worth up to $237 million from the Provider Relief Fund (PRF) created under the CARES Act to the University of New Mexico (UNM) and Project ECHO.
The funding will expand a pilot program in partnership with the Department of Health and Human Services’ Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) to educate nursing homes about COVID-19 infection control. The program will be available to any nursing home wishing to receive training.
“Project ECHO has a proven track record of training health care providers in rural and underserved areas and expanding access to quality health care to the farthest corners of our country. This investment allows UNM to leverage Project ECHO’s expertise to improve infection control in our nursing homes and to protect the most vulnerable Americans from the spread of COVID-19,” Luján said. “I’m proud of UNM and Project ECHO’s continued leadership during this pandemic, and I will continue working to expand the reach of telementoring services to improve health outcomes for patients during COVID-19 and beyond.”
“Over 70,000 of our nation’s 200,000 COVID-19 deaths have occurred among nursing home residents, which is why it is so important that Project ECHO will lead this national program to offer infectious-disease training to every nursing home in America. UNM and Project ECHO’s innovative approach to expanding high-quality specialty health care to rural and underserved areas has long been a model for the nation and internationally, and I am proud that this initiative is gaining support and recognition for further expansion,” Udall said. “In these difficult times, tele-mentoring is more important than ever. I joined the New Mexico delegation to introduce the ECHO Act to increase the reach of this successful health care training model, and I further fought alongside Senate Democrats to expand funding for health care providers nationwide in the CARES Act. I will continue pushing for federal funding to support the heroic health care providers and essential workers who are saving lives every day across the country during this pandemic.”
“The University of New Mexico’s Project ECHO has shown true leadership in providing care for rural and underserved communities and has served as a bridge to connect resources and training for medical professionals,” Heinrich said. “Nursing homes are particularly vulnerable to the spread of COVID-19. I am proud to support this funding that expands Project Echo’s work to improve infection control strategies at nursing home facilities. As we continue to deal with the impacts of COVID-19, I will continue supporting programs that promote science-based public health responses and keep New Mexico’s seniors, and the staff that cares for them, safe and healthy.”
“Health care workers and providers are doing everything they can to combat this virus, but with the everchanging information on COVID-19, training and resources are constantly needed. As someone whose mother is in a nursing facility, I know what it’s like to worry if the folks providing care have what they need to care for our loved ones. That’s why we included funding for training and research for COVID-19 infection control in the CARES Act. Today, we’re proud to announce that funding is on the way from the Provider Relief Fund (PRF) to UNM and Project ECHO to protect our elders from the spread of COVID-19,” Haaland said.
“Project ECHO, in partnership with UNM, is at the forefront of efforts to ensure New Mexicans can access quality health care no matter where they live. Throughout the public health pandemic, we’ve seen the importance of Project ECHO’s groundbreaking work in training rural physicians, expanding telemedicine, and supporting our state’s response to COVID-19. I applaud the latest investment which builds on a pilot program to improve infection control in nursing homes across New Mexico, protecting some of our most vulnerable communities,” Torres Small said.
“We are humbled to be asked to lead this initiative,” said Sanjeev Arora, MD, Project ECHO’s director and founder. “At a time when the dissemination of best practices in health care is more critical than ever, we are honored to help address this urgent need for the health system.”
Last year, Luján introduced the Expanding Capacity for Health Outcomes (ECHO) Act, bipartisan legislation that establishes a federal grant program to support technology-based collaborative learning models for health care providers, similar to those developed by Project ECHO. Representatives Haaland and Torres Smaller are original cosponsors of the legislation. Senators Udall and Heinrich cosponsored the Senate version of the ECHO Act.
Project ECHO is a telementoring system created at UNM to improve health care in underserved communities by connecting local medical professionals with specialists for training to help provide the highest quality care. The model is now operating from more than 250 hubs serving all 50 states and addressing more than 70 different complex conditions, including chronic diseases and conditions, infectious diseases, mental health, substance use disorders, and prenatal and maternal health.