When it comes to federal grant funding, good news travels fastso fast that sometimes the recipient is the last to know.
That was the case a few weeks ago for Joe Dawsey, executive director of the Coastal Family Health Center in Biloxi, Miss. Just days before the two-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, which destroyed four of Coastal Family's nine clinics, Dawsey received calls from colleagues congratulating him on the center's nearly $1.4 million grant from HHS' Health Resources and Services Administration. Coastal Family's award (which was listed on HRSA's recipient list) is part of $31.4 million in health information technology grants that HRSA Administrator Elizabeth Duke announced Aug. 27 at the National Association of Community Health Center's annual meeting in Dallas. The money is intended to expand health IT at community health centers across the country.
In all, HRSA distributed about $93 million to health centers, including $61 million in new community health center grants. Of the IT funds, 25 grants totaling more than $27 million will support implementing EHRs at health centers in networks that link multiple health center grant recipients. Also, eight grants totaling about $1 million will help health centers plan activities that will prepare them to adopt electronic health records or what HRSA called "other HIT innovations." Finally, 13 grants worth more than $3 million will be used to help health center networks implement other health information programs other than EHRs.
In Biloxi, the $1.39 million has been earmarked to integrate seven different community health centers, while Coastal Family will serve as the "clearing house," according to Dawsey, who said the clinic received exactly what it asked for in its grant application.
Prior to Hurricane Katrina, Coastal Family had used only paper records, and Dawsey estimated that nearly 60,000 were destroyed after the storm.
The clinic had considered EHRs before, and Katrina "made up our mind for us," Dawsey said, adding that he hopes an electronic system will make the area more attractive to healthcare providers. Since Katrina, Coastal Family has operated 15 different sites, many of which are small and have either one physician or a part-time provider to administer care. The center expects to open a new facility in November that will incorporate four smaller sites into one. Dawsey said he hopes to have the necessary hardware and software in place within two months.
"The doctors that we have have worked with electronic health records and wonder why we don't have them," Dawsey said. "It's impossible to recruit providers down here. I can't get anyone to talk to me about working here. This will help modernize to get them down here."
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