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9/8/2011
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Feds Inject $12 Million Into Rural Health IT

Forty grant recipients will get about $300,000 each to purchase technology, install broadband networks, and train staff members.

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The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has allocated $12 million to rural health networks across the nation to support health IT adoption and help them meet Meaningful Use requirements and qualify for federal incentive payments.

The funds will be distributed among 40 grantee organizations that will receive about $300,000 each to purchase technology, install broadband networks, and train staff members. The pilot program was developed as a result of the president's Rural Health Initiative, which identifies health IT as a priority area, and the HHS secretary's Rural HIT Taskforce.

One grant recipient is the Rural Health Partnership of North Central Florida (RHP), based in Starke, Fla., which received $299,789 toward its IT efforts. The organization is a state-certified not-for-profit health network comprised of seven hospitals and several primary and specialty care medical practices, such as hospice facilities and regional mental healthcare provider facilities.

"We've always needed more funding because our safety net providers operate on a shoestring budget," Kendra Siler-Marsiglio, director of RHP, told InformationWeek Healthcare. Siler-Marsiglio said the money will help healthcare delivery organizations and providers within the network achieve Stage 1 Meaningful Use by assessing, purchasing, and installing certified electronic health record (EHR) systems. It will also fund building a health information exchange (HIE) to connect hospitals in the region to share patient data.

"These funds will help safety net providers acquire state-of-the-art health information technology systems to ensure the delivery of quality care to some of the most remote areas of our country," HHS secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in a statement.

According to HHS, the funds will be distributed through the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) and come from existing appropriations and authorization for the Rural Health Care Services Outreach and Rural Health Network Development Program.

HRSA administrator Mary Wakefield said in a statement: "Collaboration is key to this effort. Working together, these rural health networks will be in a better position to achieve economies of scale and enhance their services and organizational capacity."

The Obama administration has stepped up its efforts to assist rural hospitals in their efforts to secure funding to purchase health IT. Last month, the administration announced that it will provide loans to more than 1,300 critical access hospitals (CAHs) in rural areas to buy software and hardware systems that will support efforts to raise the quality of care through the purchase of health IT.

Recently, the Harvard School of Public Health released a report that surveyed CAHs in rural areas and found that these hospitals have fewer clinical capabilities, a lower quality of care, worse patient outcomes, and are less equipped with health IT to support clinical workflow.

Find out how health IT leaders are dealing with the industry's pain points, from allowing unfettered patient data access to sharing electronic records. Also in the new, all-digital issue of InformationWeek Healthcare: There needs to be better e-communication between technologists and clinicians. Download the issue now. (Free registration required.)

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