BREWER, Maine — Eastern Maine Healthcare Systems, along with a number of area partners, was awarded $12.7 million in federal stimulus funding on Tuesday to expand community health care through telemedicine and other information technology infrastructure.
The grant, known as a “Beacon Community” investment, was part of nearly $220 million in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funding awarded through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
The eastern Maine region is one of only 15 across the country chosen to test a health information technology pilot project for eventual wide-scale use through the Beacon Communities program. The grant recipients will promote the use of telemedicine and patient self-management in order to improve care for elderly patients and individuals needing long-term or home care.
“In the simplest terms, the money will be used to strengthen the care management process, specifically for patients with chronic diseases or multiple diagnoses,” explained Michelle Hood, president and CEO of Eastern Maine Healthcare. “Many are seeing multiple providers and this [grant] will help streamline the process and make it easier to exchange information.”
The Rev. Bob Carlson of Penobscot Community Health Care in Bangor, one of the partners in the grant application, said the award is the capstone of several years of health care collaboration in eastern Maine.
“It was a little over three years ago that we started a health care collaborative between PCHC, St. Joseph’s Hospital and Eastern Maine Healthcare Systems and others,” he said. “That started a very positive partnership that we didn’t have before.”
The other partners in the grant are The Acadia Hospital, Eastern Maine Medical Center, Eastern Maine HomeCare, Community Health and Counseling Services, Ross Manor, Stillwater Health Care and St. Joseph Healthcare. In addition, Eastern Maine Community College will develop a program to train health information staff to sustain the program in the future.
Members of Maine’s congressional delegation praised the grant.
“Eastern Maine Healthcare Systems has set the gold standard with its efforts to modernize health information technology systems, streamlining information, and expanding health care options for patients in rural areas of our state,” Republican Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins said in a joint statement. “This funding is critical as EMHS continues to upgrade and improve its data and medical record management systems, facilitating information sharing between health care providers, thus reducing errors and unnecessary health costs.”
Added Democratic U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud: “This investment will enable Eastern Maine Healthcare Systems to take another step forward in advancing innovative approaches that will improve the way health care services are delivered in Maine.”
Hood said the funds will allow EMHS to build on a foundation of collaboration throughout the Northeast by connecting smaller hospitals and other health providers in Greater Bangor to technology that they otherwise couldn’t afford.
“EMHS has already invested heavily in research and health care information technology, and we are eager to help advance both in Maine,” Hood said. “There is a lot of in-kind support that is required to implement this grant, but all partners have demonstrated a willingness to lend that support.”
The awards announced on Tuesday also are part of a larger, $2 billion effort to provide for the use of an electronic health record for each person in the United States by 2014.