MIT faculty and students develop pandemic-related data tools and programs

The school's COVID-19 Policy Alliance is aiding healthcare and state policy makers, with a focus on preventing clusters of illnesses at senior care facilities.

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A group of faculty and students from MIT's Sloan School of Management have developed a number of COVID-19-related projects such as developing data analytics to guide policymakers, creating a network to help nursing homes in New Hampshire, helping nursing homes in Massachusetts hire critical frontline workers, and getting PPE supplies for senior care facilities.

The group, dubbed the COVID-19 Policy Alliance, includes a team of MIT Sloan Executive MBA students, and Ph.D. students from across the MIT campus. They have been working seven days a week since early March to keep COVID-19 from overwhelming the US healthcare system and to help guide policies for targeted social distancing practices, MIT said. 

From the outset, the group's focus has been to try to prevent clusters of illnesses from developing among older individuals, especially those living in nursing homes and other residential facilities, MIT said. In other nations, such clusters have led to hospital "crashes," leaving care inadequate for everyone, the institute said. In the US, nursing home deaths make up a disproportionate amount of deaths.

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"The COVID-19 Policy Alliance set out to help thwart healthcare collapse and economic devastation. Our team is making a real impact in states like Massachusetts, Georgia, and New Hampshire," said Professor Simon Johnson, in a statement. 

"Our playbook provides the intelligence and execution strategy to augment what state and local governments are currently doing," said Andrew Surwilo, MIT Executive MBA 2020, in a statement. 

Among the alliance's successful efforts thus far have been:

Developing and deploying data analytics  

Professors Vivek Farias and Retsef Levi have developed data analytics and modeling that enable policymakers and responders to see where outbreaks are occurring, and where they might occur next, MIT said. The National Guard is now using the tools in Georgia to allocate resources, the institute said.   

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We have been very fortunate that—through various data sharing partnerships with health companies Claritas and Buoy Health, and a partnership with the data visualization company Tableau—our team has been able to build predictive models that operate at a detailed level," said Faris, in a statement. 

"Support from Amazon has further allowed us to develop software to guide decisions based on these predictive models," Faris said.

"The alliance's tools take real-time data to forecast the need for hospitals, ICU beds, and ventilators, down to the US county level," said Levi, in a statement. "These models help decision-makers allocate medical and other resources. Our data makes it more likely that COVID and other patients will have the care available that they need."

Mobilizing, recruiting, and protecting frontline workers 

Shortages of staff and volunteers have been hindering the ability of facilities like nursing homes and food distribution centers to keep up with the challenges created by the pandemic. 

A group of professors have been leading a team of students and colleagues to help the Massachusetts Senior Care Association (MSCA), which represents over 400 of the state's nursing homes. Almost half of the COVID-19 deaths in Massachusetts have occurred in long-term care facilities, MIT said.

The critical shortage of healthcare professionals, specifically in senior care facilities, has led the alliance to partner with Monster.com in Massachusetts to match potential workers with essential open positions in long-term care facilities, the institute said. Monster.com has created a portal to help Massachusetts nursing homes sign up potential employees and is utilizing its own resources to help mobilize new workers.  

In partnership with the Broad Institute, the alliance and MSCA created a program to increase COVID-19 testing of nursing home residents. The alliance believes this kind of testing will be critical for gradually reopening the economy, MIT said.

The alliance has also been instrumental in getting personal protective equipment (PPE) to nursing homes, by building on connections in China, the institute said. 

In one instance, a team turned around an order within 36 hours, resulting in 75 facilities receiving desperately needed PPE, according to MIT. "I've always believed that MIT's true uniqueness comes from the fact that collaboration is imprinted in its DNA," said Professor Kate Kellogg, in a statement. "This vital effort between MIT professors and students, MSCA, and Mass. nursing facilities is just another testament to that." 

The alliance is continuing to work on all these efforts while working on additional ways to ensure that nursing homes and other facilities have the information, trained staff, equipment and money they need to protect their residents and the general public.  
 

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