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$500,000 in state funds to help improve region’s health

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Two local organizations each received a $225,000 grant from the state Department of Health’s Office of Rural Health.

The Fort Drum Regional Health Planning Organization will use its money to develop a customized Web-based health, quality-of-life and environmental information system; facilitate a regional community health assessment and community improvement plan, and develop and implement a plan to get patients more engaged in their health care. The North Country Healthcare Providers Educational and Research Fund Inc. will use its grant to implement a network plan for Jefferson, St. Lawrence, Franklin, Clinton and Essex counties that focuses on health information technology, performance improvement, disease management, prescription drug abuse and diversion, finance and collaboration.

The planning organization received the grant after the Northern New York Rural Health Care Alliance’s board of directors agreed the planning organization most likely would be more successful in receiving the grant than the alliance would have been. The organization has since absorbed duties and responsibilities previously held by the alliance.

Executive Director Denise K. Young said during the grant’s first year, FDRHPO will assess and plan, develop a survey and the health improvement plan, and in the next five years will try to impact priorities.

“All of this doesn’t happen overnight,” she said. “If we don’t spend time planning and assessing in the beginning, we could spend our resources on things that won’t make a difference.”

Mrs. Young said the patient-engagement component will involve finding ways for patients to become more involved in their own health care, including use of online patient portals, and providing assistance to patients with chronic disease who have to manage the system.

FDRHPO will release the survey on its website for people to respond to once it’s developed.

Meanwhile, the fund’s grant project will focus on connecting fiber-optic networks, according to Joey Marie Horton, director of North Country Healthcare Providers, a limited liability corporation formed by several area hospitals.

“In the first year we will be studying and identifying the current state of use of the fiber network, gaps, looking for opportunities and conducting analysis of the three areas of telemedicine, professional development and voice over Internet protocol,” she said.

Mrs. Young said once area health-care providers see telemedicine as appropriately reimbursed by insurance companies, it will grow.

“It’s clearly as effective as in-person care,” she said, citing local professionals who have used the service.

Both she and Mrs. Horton said grant money will be used effectively, as both organizations are able to collaborate on projects. Mrs. Horton’s office is located within FDRHPO, as the providers group contracts with FDRHPO to provide a director.

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