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Leadership Spotlight: New CDC Funding Recognizes Healthcare Outbreak Response Needs

Posted: December 9, 2021
Author: Joseph Perz, DrPH, MA

Joseph Perz

The Biden-Harris Administration and CDC recently announced a $2.1 billion investment as part of the American Rescue Plan (ARP), to improve infection prevention and control activities across the U.S. public health and healthcare sectors. Health departments received $885 million of this total in late October 2021 to support this work. CORHA interviewed Dr. Joe Perz, our lead representative from CDC and a Governance Committee member, to learn more about the funding.

What is the new funding we’ve been hearing about?

The initial funding is divided between two projects that are managed under a CDC cooperative agreement with health departments. One of these is the Nursing Home & Long-term Care Facility Strike Team and Infrastructure Project which totals $500 million. The other is the Strengthening HAI/AR Program (SHARP) Capacity Project which totals $385 million.

How is healthcare outbreak response reflected in the new funding?

Healthcare outbreak response is clearly recognized as a core function and essential need in both new funding opportunities, which cover the response continuum beginning with outbreak detection and extending to on-site investigation as well as longer-term follow-up activities to prevent a recurrence.

Can you unpack that a bit, in relation to the Nursing Home & Long-term Care Project?

Sure, the LTC Project Guidance includes a directive to support nursing homes – and other types of long-term care facilities – with COVID-19 outbreak response. That’s the primary motivation, and the funding can be used to support the rapid reactive activities – like testing, cohorting, infection control auditing, and even supplemental staffing – when SARS-CoV-2 has entered a facility and transmission is ramping up.

The allowable activities also support more proactive measures, like helping equip facilities with technology for infection tracking and reporting or communication with health department partners. In addition, we are supportive of creative approaches for staff recruitment, development, and retention.

The overall aim here is to build infection prevention infrastructure and achieve a greater quality of care. In other words, greater resilience to SARS-CoV-2 and outbreaks more generally. Susceptibility to the rapid spread of infections is something that nursing homes really must guard against, given the congregate and residential nature of long-term care.

And what about the SHARP Project?

Same spirit, spread farther. The SHARP funds are intended to enhance health department HAI/AR (healthcare associated infections/antimicrobial resistance) Program activities across all healthcare settings, not limited to long-term care. The SHARP project guidance reflects the central challenge that CORHA was originally founded on, which was the need to build capacity for public health and healthcare to improve outbreak detection, response and prevention. This requires close collaboration and relationship building between public health professionals and healthcare providers, which has been growing steadily but could really blossom now with these ARP-supported investments.

Outbreak detection should improve thanks to SHARP activities related to both the AR Lab Network and National Healthcare Safety Network (NHSN). These will enhance surveillance for drug-resistant pathogens and HAIs, providing data for action. Likewise, outbreak investigation should benefit from additional staffing and increased engagement with healthcare partners.

SHARP encourages health departments to build HAI/AR prevention and response capacity throughout their jurisdictions, such as expanded use of local and regional approaches to address HAI/AR threats and controlling the spread of resistant pathogens. The guidance describes requirements for funded HAI/AR programs to establish a lead position to coordinate and oversee HAI response activities and to train staff in outbreak response.

Advice for CORHA and its member organizations?

Yes, let’s lean into this opportunity. CORHA is identified as a key source for healthcare outbreak training resources. It would be great to see increased activities in that realm, including collaboration with CORHA’s member organizations to improve and expand our collective offerings.

Both of the new projects emphasize direct engagement with individual facilities. The SHARP project references activities such as medical product investigations, targeted AR threats, molecular testing methods, patient notification, and many other aspects of healthcare outbreak response. These all represent opportunities for CORHA’s workgroups and member organizations to take our work to the next level.