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Colorado Rural Health Summit: Helping Stakeholders Fill in the Gaps

In 2010, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services signed an agreement with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to form a partnership to support healthcare access in rural communities.

As a result, since 2012, Leila Samy, Rural Health IT Coordinator, HHS Office of the National Coordinator, has worked with rural communities around the country, organizing statewide meetings to address issues such as healthcare financing, telehealth infrastructure, broadband demands and other topics relevant to establishing and maintaining healthcare access in rural communities.

These are key challenges that we hear about, particularly from rural and small health care organizations,” Ms. Samy said.  

“And the best way that I have found to address these challenges is to bring together all the different stakeholders in the community,” she said.

“We speak to the leadership of healthcare organizations around the state, and ask them to identify their top challenges. We also bring in other community partners, such as foundations, who might be willing to fill in a gap.

“We’re trying to help them address their challenges holistically, while focusing not just on cost and payment but also on quality and outcomes and efficiency.”

Twenty-two states have hosted these highly informative and collaborative workshops; recently, in two locations in Colorado. On August 22, 46 stakeholders in rural healthcare met at the community center in Fruita, in western Colorado. On August 24, a second meeting, focused on the same topics, was held in Aurora, an eastern suburb of Denver, with 24 attendees.

The full-day workshops were divided into four sessions. To illustrate, here’s a description of the August 22 workshop in Fruita:

  • Michelle Mills, executive director of the Colorado Rural Health Center moderated “Colorado Rural Healthcare Landscape,” which detailed the state of HIT (health information technology) in Colorado, with participants learning ways to engage their rural facilities to create workable and sustainable HIT efforts in Colorado. Panelists were Morgan Honea, CEO of CORHIO (Colorado Regional Health Information Organization), Mary Anne Leach, Director of the Colorado Office of eHealth Innovation, and Marc Lassaux, Chief Technology Officer at Quality Health Network.

  • Nick Zucconi, regional administrator of the HRSA (Health Resources and Services Administration) telehealth and community-based grants division, moderated “Financing and technical assistance opportunities for rural health care providers.” This session focused on linking rural safety-net providers and hospitals with funding to help them invest in health systems technology. Panelists were Nick Zucconi, Kris Erps, program administrator for the Southwest Telehealth Resource Center (SWTRC), which serves Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, and Colorado and Nevada; Jodi Adkins, Community Development Block Grant manager for the Colorado Department of Local Affairs;  Hillary Fulton, the Colorado Health Foundation’s senior program officer; and Monica Abrahams, program officer with the Colorado Health Foundation.

  • “Broadband and Rural Health,” moderated by Tedd Buelow, focused on the need for robust broadband infrastructure to improve distance health services and enhance economic growth in rural areas, and the need to publicize projects that improved rural health care in Colorado. Panelists were Randall Dinogan, USDA RUS Telecommunications program; Bill Long, TDS Telecommunications; Randy Reznick and Charlie Wick, with the Colorado Telehealth Network; and Samantha Lippolis with Centura Health.

  • “Putting the Pieces Together: Making Those Connections,” was facilitated by Ms. Samy.

“These events were a great opportunity to help underscore the connection between robust broadband connectivity and improved health services throughout rural Colorado,” Mr. Buelow said. “I hope all participants left with a better understanding of how USDA and other partners can help finance rural health facilities, equipment, telemedicine and broadband infrastructure.”

About the Author

Jane Erikson joined the staff of the Arizona Telemedicine Program in April 2013. She was already familiar with the program, as she previously wrote about the program during her nearly 20 years of covering health care for the Arizona Daily Star in Tucson. Jane has lived in Arizona most of her life and is a graduate of the University of Arizona.

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