PORTLAND, Maine – MaineHealth is one of 80 agencies that has been awarded funding from the federal government through the 2016 USDA Rural Development Grant program. In all, $23 million in grants were awarded to support 36 telemedicine and 44 distance learning programs throughout the country.
“Using technology for educational opportunities and medical care can provide services that are often unavailable in rural areas,” said Tom Vilsack, agriculture secretary for the USDA, in a press release announcing the grants.
MaineHealth received more than $398,000 to install telehealth videoconferencing carts at six hospitals in rural Maine— Memorial Hospital, Franklin Memorial Hospital, Stephens Memorial Hospital, Miles Memorial Hospital, Pen Bay Medical Center and Waldo County General Hospital—with each hospital receiving three carts. Telehealth videoconferencing carts will be provided to three home health agency sites, as well—two locations of Kno-Wal-Lin Home Care & Hospice, and Waldo County Home Health and Hospice.
Tom Winchell, MaineHealth’s director of telehealth, said the funds allow MaineHealth to build on the infrastructure and successful model already in place at Home Health Visiting Nurses, Kno-Wal-Lin Home Care & Hospice and Waldo County Home Health and Hospice. The three agencies were recently merged to form MaineHealth Care at Home.
“We are looking to move forward with a standardized operation,” he said. “We are going to provide a more streamlined system for patients and providers to connect.”
The videoconferencing carts will be based on the Vidyo infrastructure, and will be customized depending on the needs of each location. Winchell said the goal is to use the carts for consultation and access to skilled specialists, clinical education, skill development and shared learning.
“We are hoping to expand access to patients in home settings,” said Winchell, “especially at-risk rural elders.”
Winchell said the grant will allow MaineHealth to create better communication between a care team and the patient to enhance outcomes.
The grant to MaineHealth was one of five such grants to the state. Grants were also awarded to four school districts to boost educational opportunities through videoconferencing.
“Broadband and telehealth technologies have become critical tools for rural communities, helping connect students with teachers and patients with doctors,” said Sens. Susan Collins R-Maine, and Angus King, I-Maine, in a joint statement. “This funding will support rural Mainers in their efforts to bridge the digital divide and actively interact with experts and resources across the country.”