The Edgecombe County Rural Health Network has a track record of multiagency collaboration to reduce barriers to care and improve residents’ health by exchanging data, increasing efficiencies, and sharing resources. The network’s newest project aims to reduce sepsis mortality by improving the knowledge of sepsis warning signs and reducing the time to treatment. 

The Georgia Health Policy Center recently spoke to Meredith Capps, project manager for the Edgecombe County Rural Health Network, and Kya Tyson, the project director for the Edgecombe Early Sepsis Initiative.

To date, what has been an accomplishment of your network’s sepsis program? 

Kya: Our biggest accomplishment so far has been establishing consistent and continuing collaboration within our network. Our network is pretty large and consists of the regional hospital, a county health department, three Federally Qualified Health Centers, two behavioral health providers, a care management provider, and an emergency medical service (EMS) provider. There are a lot of different moving pieces but making sure that we are all communicating effectively will help ensure that this program is going to be successful. 

Meredith: With COVID-19 happening at the very beginning of this grant cycle, a huge success would be our strategic plan. We had to go a little outside of the box as we could no longer do traditional face-to-face strategic planning sessions. We had to get creative and pull together a smaller committee that was very inclusive of all the partners in our network over Zoom but pulling that off was a huge success for us. 

What is a tip that you would share with an organization launching a similar program?  

Kya: Being flexible has been one of the biggest, most important things that we have been able to do. With such a large network, it is important to have flexible timelines, set realistic expectations, and understand that things may change. Our partners have jobs that are not just sepsis related. So, even though sepsis is my baby, I recognize they have other things that they are working on, and this helps foster respect and a healthy working relationship by being willing to be flexible. 

Meredith: I really agree with Kya and would add it is important to be very transparent with partners about what is going on and what things may need to change. Consistent and clear communication and just being transparent with your partners. 

How do you see participation in the Federal Office of Rural Health Policy’s grantee program impacting your broader health improvement efforts?  

Meredith: We are located in an extremely rural area. This grant program helped us get everything moving forward. We do not have a large resource pool in Edgecombe County to pull from. Being a part of this project is bringing resources into our community and helping us to figure out how to sustain the project and ultimately improve the health of the community. 

The sepsis project sits under the umbrella of the network. Diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and kidney diseases are all issues in our community. All those comorbidities play into infection and increase sepsis risk. We also have no public transportation in our community. So, the barrier to diagnosis and treatment is a huge, huge issue. This project was supported by our network 100% from the beginning as a way of reducing mortality in our community. 

Do you have an example or story that illustrates the value of implementing this project with an engaged network instead of a single organization at the helm? 

Kya: Bringing all these different people from different silos all together is much more effective than just having one regional hospital working on it. With sepsis, every hour that treatment is delayed, the chance of death increases by 8%. We are working with EMS to identify signs and symptoms in potential sepsis patients, in addition to providing each ambulance with a lactic acid meter. Testing lactic acid levels in the field can cut down that initial timeline when the patient arrives at the hospital exhibiting symptoms of sepsis. These efforts involve Area L AHEC, which is providing all the trainings to EMS, as well as multiple different providers at the Federally Qualified Health Centers, the health department, and patients and caregivers of patients who are more at risk of sepsis. 

Meredith: As a hospital we definitely could not do this alone. We know that the patients are coming from somewhere and they are going to be discharged to somewhere. In addition to health education, we know that we need to look at the social determinants of health. As a network, we are tackling what our project is set to do, reducing the time of treatment for sepsis, but we can work on some of the outside factors these patients are dealing with, too. 

Meredith: I hate to say that there are positive things that have come from the COVID pandemic, but you cannot overlook how we have grown by simply having to rely on each other. When COVID hit, as a network, we jumped right into asking, ‘What do you need? How can we assist?’ For mass vaccination events, we were sharing staff and nurses. We were making sure that we were spread out, covering the county, to ensure that we were taking what little resources we have to make the biggest impact. We really relied on each other and that has made our network so much stronger. There’s a lot more trust than there was before because of the pandemic. When all this is said and done, we will emerge a stronger more confident network not just in our own individual agencies, but the network as a whole. 

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