Grace Health recently announced it is the recipient of a $496,081 Distance Learning and Telemedicine (DLT) USDA grant administered by the Rural Utilities Service.
The grant will be used to install state-of-the-art telemedicine equipment “to expand services to rural communities that do not have the population and demand to support full-time health care providers.” Through telemedicine one provider will be able to serve multiple rural sites much more effectively without having to deal with extensive travel.
The announcement came during a press conference with company officials last week.
Telemedicine, which is gaining in popularity, generally employs the use of an advanced monitor, high-resolution camera, microphone and sound system. The equipment allows health care providers to offer care to patients remotely.
Michael Stanley, CEO of Grace Health, said the equipment is vital because there is often so much distance between clinics and sites the community-based health care organization serves. The telemedicine equipment will provide primary care, behavioral health, and patient engagement services using telemedicine. Grace Health will purchase and implement telemedicine equipment at 22 sites: seven Grace Health Clinics (located in Corbin, Gray, Manchester, Pineville, and Hyden), eight schools in Clay County, Owsley County Health Care Center, Laurel Creek Health Care, ContinueCare Hospital, Hillcrest Nursing Home, Christian Health Center, Corbin Nursing Home, and The Heritage.
“Anytime we can improve access to health care, we are really exicted,” Stanley said. “We are appreciative of the USDA … and for them to recognize what we can currently do in our service area.”
“Those are some pretty underserved areas when it comes to health care,” he added.
Grace Health’s service area includes Bell, Clay, Knox, Leslie, Owsley and Whitley Counties. All of its service area counties have been designated as part of federally designated eastern Kentucky Promise Zone designed to encourage economic and educational development in one of the nation’s most impoverished areas. The counties are also designated as USDA StrikeForce Zone.
Officials pointed out that the lack of health care providers in the service area is the largest barrier to accessing care. Rural primary care provider shortages have been widely reported. In Kentucky, while 43 percent of the population lives in rural areas, only 28 percent of physicians work in rural areas. The majority of the service area is designated as a Health Professional Shortage Area (HPSA) for primary care, mental health, and dental care.
Chad Stevens, Chief Financial Officer of Grace Health, said the grant has a matching component.
“It’s a total of $701,000, so we have our own matching portion too,” he said. “We will contribute toward this program to make it successful.”
Stanley said the grant requires Grace Health to purchase and install the telemedicine equipment within a year’s time. He said officials would be working with schools, nursing homes and its clinics to determine where Internet bandwidth is currently appropriate for the service and focus on those places first. He said he’s hopeful all equipment will be purchased and in place well before the 12 month deadline.