Tufts University offers tools, guidance to encourage universities to help relieve strain on nation’s healthcare system

University to collaborate with Mass. Department of Education on webinar for colleges, universities
Image of a large dorm-house on the Tufts University campus.
A co-housing dorm on the Tufts University campus. (Credit: Alonso Nichols/Tufts University)
April 6, 2020

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Patrick Collins

MEDFORD/SOMERVILLE, Mass. (April 6, 2020)—In its continuing efforts to encourage colleges and universities across the country to share resources and facilities with local hospitals and communities to relieve unprecedented strain on the healthcare system caused by COVID-19, Tufts University today announced it is making available tools and guidance to help facilitate relationships between schools and their local healthcare providers and government authorities.

In addition, the university, in collaboration with the Massachusetts Department of Education, will conduct a webinar on Wednesday, April 8, at 2 p.m. Eastern to share what it has learned as it has worked with two hospitals and two cities to address the needs they face as a result of the pandemic. The webinar is open to colleges, universities, hospitals and government officials from across the country. To register, visit the following link: http://go.tufts.edu/covid19communitysupport.

Additionally, members of the university’s Office of University Counsel will conduct a webinar in collaboration with the National Association of College and University Attorneys on Thursday, April 9, at 2 p.m.

“I believe we have a civic duty to use our resources to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 and save lives,” said Tufts University President Anthony P. Monaco. “Many colleges and universities currently have unused space in their residence halls that could be put to use as alternative hospital sites, housing for first responders, or quarantine and isolation units for people who are awaiting test results or are no longer critically sick but can’t return home to family members in vulnerable populations. The actions each institution takes should be guided by the needs of their local communities and healthcare providers, which will vary from location to location. But we all have something to contribute, and the time to do so is now.”

To help colleges and universities sort through the issues that arise when making residence halls and other resources available, Tufts has:

  • Created a web page that outlines operational, legal, and risk considerations that colleges and universities should consider and address when entering into partnerships with local entities.
  • Launched a mathematical model that helps match college campuses’ dormitory capacity to hospitals’ projected needs. The tool was created by Moon Duchin, associate professor of mathematics, and her team of researchers.
  • Made available sample contracts that can be used with hospitals and other entities. Already, Tufts has provided these samples to more than 25 colleges and universities nationwide and in Canada.

Tufts has been working closely for weeks with local hospitals and its host communities to help address their needs. It has segmented its campus to create separate zones for different populations, protecting the health and wellbeing of students, faculty, and staff while providing space for potential housing and treatment needs.

For example, the university:

  • Set aside 1,600 beds on its Medford/Somerville campus for potential use by local healthcare providers and the university’s host communities, and will follow their guidance on how, when, and how many of those beds should be deployed.
  • Is working closely with Cambridge Health Alliance, a healthcare system serving 140,000 patients in Boston’s metro-north region, to provide housing for healthcare workers and patients, including COVID-19 positive patients who are no longer in need of critical care but who still need to isolate and whose transfer into Tufts residence halls can free up hospital beds for those who are seriously ill.
  • Is working with Boston-based Tufts Medical Center, a separate entity, to make available a residence hall on the university’s downtown campus to house hospital personnel who cannot or do not want to return home to potentially vulnerable family members.
  • Agreed to allow its host communities to use several buildings on the Medford/Somerville campus with apartment-style residences to house first responders who cannot return home to potentially vulnerable family members because they are awaiting test results or have tested positive and need to isolate.

Separately, the university has also supplied hospitals with personal protective equipment from its academic and research labs, ventilators from its veterinary hospital, and more than 6,000 face masks that were repaired by Tufts students, staff, and alumni, along with help from Harvard and MIT students.

“We’re committed to continuing to do all that we can to help our local healthcare systems and local and state governments through this unprecedented time,” said Monaco.