Rural Health Initiative and Innovation Collaboration Seeks to Help Rural Healthcare Facilities with Relief during Pandemic
In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Jnev Biros and other members of the WT3D COVID-19 Relief Consortium became aware of the statewide shortage of N95 respirators.
"Brandon Weeks, associate dean of research and graduate programs in the Whitacre College of Engineering initially came up with the brilliant idea of driving across West Texas with a decontamination unit attached to a truck," Biros said. The idea was to disinfect used N95s for rural hospital staff to safely reuse the equipment.
Although the initial idea posed logistical obstacles, it evolved into the Rural Health Initiative and Innovation Collaboration with the guidance and encouragement of Dean Al Sacco, Jr.
"We had multiple objectives when starting the trips to rural hospitals," Biros said. First, we wanted to train hospital staff for proper fitting of N95s. At the time, data had shown that these respirators did not perform at its best if it did not fully seal around the wearers' face."
The initiative reached out to rural hospitals and started scheduling visits with them to fit test staff and train them on how to wear their respirators for optimal protection.
"Second, the trips served as a source of feedback to the engineering team members, who were designing transport ventilators for resource-limited settings, on their technology," Biros said. "The trips gave our team the chance to run a market analysis through on-site visits."
"This has been a mutual learning experience for both the engineering team who had the opportunity to learn more about the local community's needs and the healthcare front as they became aware of the methods and practical solutions to overcome the challenges in their daily practice, especially in the face of a pandemic," Biros said. "The motivation to understand our community's technical and technological needs ultimately led us to creating a portal to make our communication more efficient and impactful. West Texas Innovations Serving Healthcare Professionals, (WISH) is a platform for the rural hospital staff to connect with engineers for problem solving; and with their colleagues in other hospitals for sharing resources and best practices."
"Sharing best practices among rural healthcare facilities is especially important in the uncertainties of a pandemic where healthcare professionals face problems in patient care or facility management – problems that they have never come across with before," Biros said. "The portal is still in the design phase, but we are getting frequent feedbacks from hospital staff as we look to fine tune the features of the website." The WISH is an important source of support to our community which will make a tremendous impact.