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A network of long-term care medical directors and clinicians will develop best practices around COVID-19 treatments and infection prevention guidelines for senior living communities, nursing homes and other congregate care settings in Virginia.

The Virginia Long Term Care Clinician Network is the result of a partnership between Virginia Commonwealth University and the Virginia Department of Health to bring together medical directors and clinicians practicing in long-term care settings. The network is a two-year project being developed and managed by the VCU Division of Geriatric Medicine, VCU’s Virginia Center on Aging and the VCU Department of Gerontology.

The goals of the network include developing a consensus-derived COVID-19 treatment algorithm specific to long-term care medicine, disseminating monthly updates focusing on new COVID-19 infection prevention guidelines and treatment options, establishing a monthly forum and creating a central website for network members.

“During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Virginia Long-Term Care Task Force did experience challenges in identifying and communicating with medical directors, physicians and other medical professionals supporting long-term care communities,” Judy Hackler, executive director of the Virginia Assisted Living Association, told McKnight’s Senior Living. “We welcome the creation of the Virginia Long-Term Care Clinician Network and look forward to working with the commonwealth on improving communications with assisted living providers on concerns, programs and opportunities that could better support assisted living providers and the residents they serve.”

The Virginia Health Care Association / Virginica Center for Assisted Living told McKnight’s Senior Living that the network integrates assisted living into the larger conversations happening in the state’s healthcare community. A spokeswoman said that assisted living’s inclusion allows the sector to have access to information and resources for infection prevention and control as a “key part of the care continuum.”

“As COVID-10 variants and new therapeutic options continue to arrive, it is vital that we have a unified approach to connect and engage with this group to be able to better understand the clinical management of COVID-19 for one of our most vulnerable populations,” Lelan Waters, PhD, project director of VCU Center on Aging, said in a statement

The network is being funded by an $820,000 grant that was part of $9.9 million the state health department awarded in December to nine organizations across the commonwealth. The network initially was part of the Virginia Long-Term Care Infrastructure Pilot Project, which received funding from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention through the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 as part of the Nursing Home & Long-Term Care Facility Strike Team and Infrastructure project.

Christian Bergman, MD, an assistant professor in the VCU Division of Geriatric Medicine and Virginia LTC-CN principal investigator, said that the network will create a collaboration among post-acute and long-term care medicine clinicians who were unified through COVID-19 pandemic.

“This grant represents an opportunity to learn and build back stronger,” Bergman said in a statement. “We aim to unite clinicians who practice medicine in this challenging work environment while helping some of the most frail members of our community.”

The 580 assisted living communities and 287 nursing homes in the state employ 139 medical directors and up to 600 clinicians. The goal of the project is to create a central mode of communication among those providers through a monthly forum encouraging peer discussions.