TERRE HAUTE, Indiana – The Indiana Rural Health Association (IRHA) will now strengthen its current support in combating the COVID-19 crisis in rural areas, tapping new $828,000 funding awarded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) through the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA).
“We plan to add staff and additional resources to help physicians, providers, medical professionals, clinics and hospitals integrate and leverage telehealth resources,” said Becky Sanders, a senior director of IRHA. “Interest and demand for telehealth is presently so high that we’re dealing with phones ringing off their hooks and floods of emails,” she added.
Telehealth options can replace typical office visits with physicians with secure online connectivity between providers and patients. A physician can schedule lab tests and x-rays to be conducted in appropriate facilities that observe social distancing and safety protocols.
Sanders also serves as program director of the Upper Midwest Telehealth Resource Center (UMTRC), a federally funded program of IRHA that provides telehealth clinical and technical assistance to medical and related professionals in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and Ohio.
UMTRC also receives legacy funding of $325,000 annually through a separate HRSA program; the new funding will extend its capacity to support telehealth expansion in Indiana to help combat issues associated with COVID-19.
“Telehealth has emerged in a very major way in the past few months,” Sanders explained. “A few years ago, telehealth use was the equivalent of a small rowboat in the middle of Lake Michigan – now it’s a huge rescue ship from which physicians and medical professionals treat patients daily.”
The IRHA-related telehealth programs have “provided more technical telehealth assistance in the past 30 days than in the last six months,” she said, noting that crisis-driven changes in reimbursement, regulations and applications have opened telemedicine up to a broad variety of new users. “HHS relaxed prior HIPAA rules, and new federal rules about Medicare and new waivers now allow patients to be seen from their homes,” Sanders added.
The $828,000 in funding was part of more than $3 million from HRSA to the Indiana State Department of Health and IRHA “as an investment to support small rural hospitals in Indiana,” according to a HRSA media brief. “Today’s funding gives rural hospitals in Indiana critical support to build up their capacity for fighting COVID-19 in their communities, including further expansions of telehealth, more purchases of PPE, and boosting testing capacity,” said HHS Secretary Alex Azar in the release.
“Indiana has taken a real leadership role in pouring a solid foundation for expanded broad professional use of telehealth,” said Don Kelso, IRHA CEO. “Telehealth applications are here to stay, and Becky and others have done a superb job of creating and supporting training programs that help providers integrate telehealth into daily use, including physician consults and treatment.”
“The financial stress on our rural hospitals has never been greater,” Kelso continued. “New reimbursement options and expanded telehealth capacity gives physicians and clinics fresh options to deal with dramatically expanded costs and declining revenues.”
The IRHA CEO added that IRHA has also separately made cost-effective telehealth online service platforms available to clinics and providers through the IRHA WhiteBark division.
Sanders noted that the process of gathering additional resources and producing targeted webinars about telehealth applications and usage has already begun. “We have a long list of requested topics that we’re quickly ramping up to support and address,” she said.
Contact: Becky Sanders (812-478-3919, ext. 232) email@example.com
Don Kelso (812) 478-3919 e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Michael Snyder (317) 805-4870 e-mail: email@example.com Cell – 317-709-3560
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About the Indiana Rural Health Association
The Indiana Rural Health Association was organized in 1997 and is a nonprofit organization working to enhance the health and well-being of rural populations in Indiana through leadership, education, advocacy, collaboration, and resource development. The strength of the organization is through the present diverse membership and the founding organizers who are committed to impacting the health of citizens through the identification of rural health issues and through advocacy roles in both the public and private sectors. IRHA membership is made up of 3,300 diverse individuals and organizations, making it the largest state rural health association in the nation, and a nationally recognized leader in rural health care. For more information, visit www.indianaruralhealth.org.