Pilot communities across the country have been awarded millions of federal dollars to strengthen health information technology exchanges and improve care management in their local areas. But in taking measures to comply with the statute that authorized these funds—the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009—some pilots are seeing the money more quickly than others.
They're in the money—now
Some IT projects are getting stimulus funds faster
HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced last week the final two pilot communities selected under the new Beacon Community Cooperative Agreement Program, bringing the total to 17. The program was created by the stimulus law to pilot-test the adoption of emerging health information technology in an effort to address local health issues.
The newest additions to the program, HealthBridge, Cincinnati, and Southeastern Michigan Health Association, Detroit, were awarded $13.8 million and $16.2 million, respectively. Overall, the pilots will receive $250 million in stimulus funds, plus $15 mil-lion for technical assistance and evaluation.
All of these programs over the past few months “have been hiring staff and making procurement decisions on which technology and care delivery partners they're going to use, which providers they're going to work with first, to phase in their strategies” over a three-year period, said Aaron McKethan, program director for the Beacon Community Program at the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology at HHS. The ONC's role is to ensure that all of the paperwork associated with these procurement decisions complies with the stimulus law, he explained.
For the 15 pilot communities that first received Beacon funds in May, things have progressed at different stages. Eastern Maine Healthcare Systems, Brewer, has yet to receive the full $12.7 million it was awarded under the Beacon program. About $7.9 million has been released so far, but the ONC “has asked for clarification on the remaining amounts to justify what the expenses are for these activities” under the Beacon program, said Mac Hilton, program manager with EMHS.
Hilton said he expected the remaining funds to be released to EMHS “very shortly, in the next couple of weeks.” The funds are being used to link more providers, including hospitals, primary-care practices and long-term-care facilities in the community to the state's larger health information exchange Hilton said.
Geisinger Clinic in Danville, Pa., which was awarded $16 million in Beacon funds, has plans to create an IT infrastructure to link all providers in a five-county area, said Jim Walker, chief health information officer at Geisinger Health System, who is the primary investigator on the Beacon grant. The funds for the project have yet to be distributed, however, mainly because the ONC wants more specifics on contracting and this has slowed progress on the budget being completed, he said.
Send us a letter
Have an opinion about this story? Click here to submit a Letter to the Editor, and we may publish it in print.