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Institute Assessing Covid-19 Mental Health Programs

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(Ajay Kumar Singh, Pixabay)

19 Aug. 2020. A research institute evaluating real-world health outcomes is funding studies of Covid-19 mental health programs for health care workers and low-income communities. The Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute, or PCORI, is also backing five other studies of telehealth, infection control in long-term care facilities, and policy outcomes related to Covid-19, with all studies totaling $22.6 million.

PCORI is a not-for-profit organization that conducts comparative effectiveness research, defined as research providing evidence for patients and health care providers to make more informed decisions about prevention, treatment, and care options, and the science behind those options. The institute, created by the Affordable Care Act in 2010, gets most of its funds from federal appropriations.

Rand Corp. in Santa Monica, California is receiving $4.9 million from PCORI to evaluate a program called Stress First Aid that aims to improve the physical and mental well-being of health care workers by reducing their high levels of stress from treating Covid-19 patients. The program is designed to provide professionals not trained in mental health matters with tools to help their colleagues. Rand researchers in Massachusetts will conduct a randomized clinical trial testing Stress First Aid against usual methods in 40 health care facilities..

Another PCORI project is assessing a mindfulness program for low-income communities. University at Buffalo, part of the State University of New York, is receiving $2.5 million for a randomized trial testing a mindfulness-based stress reduction program delivered via teleconference against a mobile app. The study is evaluating these delivery methods among Buffalo’s low-income and underserved communities for their ability to reduce anxiety, stress, depression, and loneliness, as well as improve sleep and quality of life. Covid-19 has exacerbated already wide disparities in health care between communities of color and the rest of society.

Two other PCORI-funded studies are evaluating telehealth’s utility during the Covid-19 pandemic. A $3 million project to Cornell University medical school in New York is assessing delivery of primary medical care as it transitions from in-person to telehealth, looking particularly at people with chronic conditions and in diverse communities. A separate project is providing $2.5 million to University of Pennsylvania medical school in Philadelphia to evaluate COVID Watch, an automated home monitoring program for people with Covid-19 infections self-isolating at home.

A team at University of Southern California in Los Angeles is assessing Covid-19 health behaviors among people receiving support services provided through group housing compared to people living independently but receiving help through mobile case management. That $2.5 million study is looking particularly at health behaviors and quality of life among people experiencing homelessness. And the Penn State medical center in Hershey, Pennsylvania is receiving $2.3 million to evaluate Project ECHO, a program for nursing home staff members to learn about CDC guidelines and best practices for Covid-19 infection control through interactive virtual training.

The largest award, $5 million, is going to University of California in San Francisco to assess Covid-19 policy decisions made in seven states on people’s health and financial status. Researchers are looking particularly at impacts on racial and ethnic minorities, with study participants recruited through PCORI’s established network of research sites.

“While work continues to develop effective therapies and vaccines against Covid-19,” says executive director Nakela Cook in a PCORI statement, “it is equally vital to understand the impact of adaptations to health care delivery implemented in response to the pandemic and strategies to achieve the best possible outcomes during this time of crisis, particularly among underserved populations.”

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