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HEAL grant to help hospitals collaborate

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North country hospitals will receive nearly $13 million in state grants to improve health care systems.

A consortium of seven hospitals will share $3.8 million from the Healthcare Efficiency and Affordability Law for New Yorkers program to collaborate throughout the next two to three years on a plan to keep Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence counties’ residents healthy, and to cut costs.

While a part of the consortium, Carthage Area Hospital, Carthage, also received a $9.1 million grant, but as of the close of business Friday, hospital officials provided no details of the grant award. The grants were announced Friday by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.

River Hospital, Alexandria Bay; Samaritan Medical Center, Watertown; Lewis County General Hospital, Lowville; E.J. Noble Hospital, Gouverneur; Clifton-Fine Hospital, Star Lake, and Claxton-Hepburn Medical Center, Ogdensburg, are the other hospitals that joined in the larger, collaborative effort to help reduce the number of unnecessary repeat Medicaid admissions.

Readmission for mental health diagnosis is the most common for the Medicaid patient population, but other diagnoses, including heart failure, diabetes and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, also have been prevalent, according to John Wheeler, deputy director of the Fort Drum Regional Health Planing Organization.

Mr. Wheeler said data from 2008 through 2010 for the seven hospitals revealed an average of 247 potentially preventable Medicaid readmissions, costing $1.6 million, per year.

River Hospital CEO Ben Moore III, who also is spokesman for the project, said part of the effort includes a proposed Medicaid rate adjustment for operational support for project activities. Initial estimates, according to Mr. Wheeler, are that the partnership hospitals may receive $225 per Medicaid discharge through the rate adjustment throughout the course of about three years. An initial three-year cost savings to the Medicaid program is expected to be nearly $6 million through reductions of preventable patient readmissions and emergency department visits.

The grant money will help the hospitals acquire the assistance of experts to assess the region’s health status, accurately identify unmet health care needs and support the development of a clinically integrated health system. According to the HEAL application, the Fort Drum Regional Health Planning Organization also will provide grant coordination, medical director leadership, telemedical capacity building, regional metrics measurement, technical support, high-risk patient case management and home tele-health monitoring. All hospitals involved are a part of the Health Planning Organization.

Other project objectives include the establishment of a hospital and clinic telemedical program to increase specialty access to care, produce a regional data mining capacity and establish comprehensive case management and tele-health programs. The plan includes a registry for the seven participating hospitals to track diseases in the region. Mr. Wheeler said he is exploring how it may be feasible to integrate that with the regional health information exchange.

A total project commitment is expected to total nearly $6 million — $3.8 million in HEAL funds, about $800,000 from participating hospitals and nearly $1.5 million in other anticipated funds for the potential medicaid rate adjustment.

Mr. Moore said the recent HEAL award solidifies an extended partnership among area health care agencies.

“In our view, the task of recasting the health-care system for this region would have been impossible without the assistance of these grant funds,” he said in an email. “To ignore this opportunity would ensure second-class care for our patients for the future.”

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