June 19, 2018
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Funds to improve drug safety awarded to 14 small hospitals

By Meg Haskell, BDN Staff

Fourteen small community hospitals in Maine have made a commitment to improve medication safety for their patients, supported with funding from the Maine Health Access Foundation, or MeHAF.

With combined awards of $670,000, the hospitals will im-plement a variety of measures aimed at preventing medication errors in and out of the hospital, ensuring that patients understand the medications they take, reducing side effects and preventing hospital re-admissions.

“Over the last decade, we have witnessed explosive growth nationwide in the number of people taking multiple medications to treat a variety of chronic diseases, … yet people are often unsure of how to manage their prescriptions correctly,” MeHAF’s president, Dr. Wendy Wolf, said Wednesday.

Maine’s most rural hospitals serve a high percentage of the state’s uninsured and under-insured residents, including elderly and low-income populations, Wolf said, so they play an important role in ensuring medication safety and compliance.

The MeHAF funding will allow 14 of Maine’s 15 “critical access” hospitals to train staff and invest in technologies that promise to improve medication safety and compliance. The critical access designation means hospitals have agreed to limit certain services and restrict the number of beds to 25 in exchange for higher Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements.

Waldo County General Hospital in Belfast is the only critical access hospital that did not participate in the MeHAF funding process. CEO Mark Biscone said Wednesday that the hospital already has invested in medication safety systems.

MeHAF program officer Kim Crichton said representatives of participating hospitals have met over the past six months to share ideas for improving medication safety. One goal, she said, has been to encourage the group to assume leadership on the issue instead of waiting for larger institutions to lead the way.

“Medication safety ought to be just as important and innovative at small hospitals as it is at the larger ones,” Crichton said. The collaborative environment has helped the hospitals identify manageable projects without getting overwhelmed, she said.

Out of the meetings have emerged a range of small-scale projects that hospitals will implement over coming months.

At Houlton Regional Hospital, doctors and nurses in the emergency department will be trained in the use of a new computerized physician order program designed to flag patient allergies, avoid drug interactions, and eliminate the problem of interpreting physician handwriting.

At Redington-Fairview General Hospital in Skowhegan, where pharmacists are hard to recruit, new technology will allow 24-hour staffing and dispensing of drugs by Maine-licensed pharmacists in remote locations.

And at Blue Hill Memorial Hospital, a special focus by hospital pharmacists on the sometimes-tricky management of anticoagulation drugs aims to drive down rates of potentially lethal blood clots and internal hemorrhage. Inpatient and outpatient programs are being developed.

The MeHAF funding is designed to support each project for 15 months, including ongoing evaluation. Beyond that, Wolf said, hospitals will need to come up with the funding they need to continue the initiatives themselves.

The Maine Health Access Foundation is Maine’s largest health care philanthropy. It was established in 2000 with the proceeds from the sale of Maine’s nonprofit Blue Cross and Blue Shield programs to a for-profit corporation. Each year, MeHAF awards approximately $5 million to expand access to health care, particularly for people who are uninsured and medically under-served.

On the Web: www.mehaf.org

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