Streamlined access to personal protective equipment as well as a network of resources for elderly homes are among the tools that the COVID-19 Policy Alliance is helping bring to New Hampshire.
(TNS) — A grassroots team of professors from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology is working with state Sen. Tom Sherman, D-Rye, on bolstering the state's response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Streamlined access to personal protective equipment and a network of resources for elderly homes are among the tools Sherman is helping bring to New Hampshire by working with the COVID-19 Policy Alliance. The group was self-organized by MIT professors to provide resources to the federal government and states for mitigating the impact of the pandemic.
The team's work includes new software capable of automatically identifying vacant beds in each hospital in real-time to prevent them from being overwhelmed. Sherman, a medical doctor, is volunteering as the group's chief medical officer and connecting them with officials in New Hampshire like at the state Department of Health and Human Services. He was invited by his niece, Valerie Karplus, a member of the team, who said they could use his clinical and legislative experience.
"I called him because he's an MD, he's a state senator and he's an incredibly caring and reliable guy," said Karplus, an MIT professor of global economics and management.
Alliance co-founder Simon Johnson said Sherman has been an important bridge for getting his team's ideas into the hands of those who can benefit from them via implementation. He said most of the alliance's work so far has been in New Hampshire and Massachusetts, though they hope to help communities across the country with the ideas they develop in those states.
"Tom is our leader in New Hampshire," Johnson said. "He's really shaped what we've been able to do in New Hampshire."
The team has helped get New Hampshire a new supply of highly sought personal protective equipment being sent to the state in the next week, according to Karplus. She has been working with N.H. Homeland Security and Emergency Management Director Perry Plummer for the state to buy a half-million pieces of PPE, including masks, gowns, caps and other gear worn by healthcare workers.
The PPE will come from a company in China, where she said there is a large supply. She said flight details have not been finalized.
The alliance also formed the New Hampshire Senior Support Team, comprised of about 100 volunteers offering remote support to a network of elderly homes and assisted living facilities. Elderly people are considered at a higher risk of COVID-19, and Sherman said many nursing homes were unprepared for the coronavirus in places like Seattle.
New Hampshire has had at least three outbreaks in nursing homes, state officials said last week. The Associated Press reported one facility, Hanover Hill Health Care in Manchester, had 37 residents and 13 workers test positive, as well as four patients die.
Sherman said the support team's volunteers came from organizations like the New Hampshire Nurses Association and include retired nurses, physicians assistants, medical students, medical assistants and other healthcare professionals. They are working from home and underwent training to help them guide elder care facilities through questions like how to contain infection and where to acquire PPE.
Sherman said the team's online system, which went live last week, has participation from 57 of the approximately 200 elder care facilities in the state and will help shoulder the high demand for support currently being handled by DHHS.
"They are working at 400%. There's only so much they can do," Sherman said.
He said the new real-time hospital bed capacity tracking software is ready to be implemented when state officials are interested, designed by MIT professor Vivek Farias. He said the "load-balancing" would direct patients to hospitals where more beds were available so busy facilities wouldn't become "overwhelmed" - defined as two patients over capacity, he said. He said the alliance's models project the software would prevent six of the state's 26 hospitals from being overwhelmed, which he said is a threat without the program.
The alliance is a grassroots team of professors formed independently of MIT by scholars working in the institute's Sloan School of Management. Sherman said the team's work is an example of how innovation can come from a crisis like a pandemic, though Johnson said that was an optimistic view.
"There's a lot of intent to help. Whether it proves to be lasting innovation..." Johnson said. "It's kind of everybody trying to do whatever they can."
©2020 Portsmouth Herald, N.H. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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