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Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Secretary ofEric K. Shinseki have announced a joint effort to expand care delivery to veterans living in rural areas.
Through this new initiative, supported by $983,100 in grants, the two agencies will promote collaboration between VA facilities, and private hospitals and clinics, seeking to improve access and coordination of care through telehealth and health information exchanges in rural areas.
“The Obama administration is committed to doing all that we can to provide rural veterans the care they need closer to home,” said Sebelius. “As more combat veterans return home,and VA are partnering to provide vital health care and treatment to reduce the distance some veterans have to travel.”
[See also: Health IT helps fight the war at home.]
Three states with the highest density of veteran residents – Virginia, Montana and Alaska – will each receive approximately $300,000 to implement or upgrade telehealth capabilities for veterans who must otherwise travel long distances to access medical, mental and behavioral health care. The grants will be used for telehealth equipment and to develop electronic health records that are compatible with the VA’s VistA EHR.
The Department of Veterans Affairs Telehealth Expansion Initiative, launched in May 2011, is growing VA’s telehealth workforce across the country, and will provide a potential capacity of 1.2 million telehealth consultations annually when fully implemented, officials say.
“This is an outstanding example of a partnership that expands access to care and improves quality of life for rural veterans,” said Shinseki. “Working with partners like HHS, VA will continue to increase the reach of our services beyond our 152 major medical centers to ensure veterans receive the care they have earned and deserve.”
Administered by the, the grants are part of a pilot program to spur collaborative telehealth networks and virtual linkages among rural health providers and the VA to help meet the needs of rural veterans. The Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT is working to implement among VA hospitals and rural hospitals to make high-quality, safe and affordable health care more available to returning veterans living in rural areas.
The joint effort between HHS and VA is a result of the ongoing work of the White House Rural Council, established by Executive Order last year. The White House Rural Council aims to address challenges in Rural America by streamlining and improving the effectiveness of federal programs serving rural America and coordinating private sector partnerships.