Written by: Kathy Rhoad, PCC Director of Public Relations & Program Development
BAMBERG, SC— Palmetto Care Connections (PCC) has been awarded $782,575 through the Federal Communications Commission’s COVID-19 Telehealth Program as part of its second round of funding.
PCC serves as a leading partner and administrator for the South Carolina Rural Telehealth Initiative, a consortium of diverse health care providers that will deploy a telehealth platform and remote patient monitoring devices to enhance: 1) remote care of patients with COVID-19, 2) remote care for select chronic disease patients with high risk of mortality from acquiring COVID-19, and 3) telehealth capabilities for COVID-19 and other admitted patients to critical access hospitals.
The health care providers in the consortium operate primarily in rural, underserved communities located in the Upstate, Midlands, Pee Dee and Low Country regions of the state. Health care organizations in the SC Rural Telehealth Initiative include Williamsburg Regional Hospital, Allendale County Hospital, Lowry’s Primary Care in Chester, Clemson Health Clinic – Walhalla, Little River Medical Center, Clyburn Center for Primary Care of Rural Health Services, Inc. and the Alpha Behavioral Health Center in Chesterfield County.
The funds will cover the costs of remote monitoring devices such as connected blood pressure monitors, glucose monitors, and pulse oximeters so high-risk patients can continue receiving quality care remotely with lower risk of COVID-19 transmission. In addition, the funds will reimburse the cost of the development of a telehealth platform.
The SC Rural Telehealth Initiative will be co-led by PCC Chief Executive Officer Kathy Schwarting, MHA and Clemson Rural Health Director Ron Gimbel, Ph.D. “Patients with certain chronic disease and other conditions are at heightened risk of acquiring SARS-CoV-2. Innovation in remote patient monitoring and telehealth connectivity (in the home) helps to protect vulnerable patients while promoting self-management of their chronic condition. Remote patient monitoring includes enabled medical devices that capture biomedical readings and visualize trends to help guide patients. The devices, such as weight scales, blood pressure monitors, glucose monitors, pulse oximeters, peak flow meters, and others will be integrated within a dedicated telehealth platform to provide trended data for comparison by patients, clinical staff and providers. Safety thresholds and aligned messaging to patients will help the high-risk patients isolate at home, receive care remotely, and guide them when readings are troublesome,” said Gimbel. “Within our critical access hospital partners, the devices will be used within the hospital facilities to ensure high quality care despite of nursing shortages and other challenges.”
“The SC Rural Telehealth Initiative is committed to improving access to care and health outcomes for SC residents. In addition to patients with COVID-19, our health providers will be treating high risk patients who have Type-2 diabetes, hypertension, congestive heart failure, obesity, and substance use disorders. Many of the patients are underrepresented minorities and older adults including veterans,” said Schwarting.
According to a news release, the FCC’s COVID-19 Telehealth Program supports the efforts of health care providers to continue serving their patients by providing reimbursement for telecommunications services, information services, and connected devices necessary to enable telehealth during the COVID-19 pandemic. Round 2 is a $249.95 million federal initiative that builds on the $200 million program established as part of the CARES Act.
“As the impact of new variants continue to challenge our healthcare system, the FCC has worked diligently to review and approve funding commitments as part of our COVID-19 Telehealth Program,” FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said in the news release. “As we head into 2022, the ability to treat patients and loved ones from the safety of their home is of vital importance.”
Established in 2010, PCC is a non-profit organization that provides technology, broadband, and telehealth support services to health care providers in rural and underserved areas in S.C. PCC co-chairs the South Carolina Telehealth Alliance, along with the Medical University of South Carolina, serving as an advocate for rural providers and partnering with organizations to improve health care access and delivery for all South Carolinians. The National Cooperative of Health Networks Association named Palmetto Care Connections as the 2021 Outstanding Health Network of the Year. PCC Chief Executive Officer Kathy Schwarting received South Carolina’s 2021 Community Star award presented by the National Organization of State Offices of Rural Health.