Flagstaff Medical Center to expand telehealth on Reservation

From left: USDA State Director Alan Stephens, Director of Flagstaff Medical Center’s (FMC)  Telehealth Program Gigi Sorenson, CEO of Northern Arizona Healthcare Bill Bradel, FMC Interim Chief Medical Officer Mark Carroll and Verde Valley Medical Center Chief Medical Officer Harry Alberti celebrate a new grant. Katherine Locke/ NHO

From left: USDA State Director Alan Stephens, Director of Flagstaff Medical Center’s (FMC) Telehealth Program Gigi Sorenson, CEO of Northern Arizona Healthcare Bill Bradel, FMC Interim Chief Medical Officer Mark Carroll and Verde Valley Medical Center Chief Medical Officer Harry Alberti celebrate a new grant. Katherine Locke/ NHO

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. - Northern Arizona Healthcare was awarded a second grant for its telehealth program bringing the total the healthcare provider has received to more than a quarter of a million dollars and enabling expansion of services on local reservations.

Alan Stephens, state director for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Development for Arizona awarded Northern Arizona Healthcare (NAH) a grant for expansion of its telehealth program at Flagstaff Medical Center Sept. 4.

This is the second grant NAH has received for its telehealth program.

The first grant allowed the hospital to place telemedicine carts, which cost about $30,000 each and allow for chronic disease care delivery at virtual clinics, in the Little Colorado Medical Center, Pinon Health Center, Tuba City Regional Health Care, Peach Springs Health Center and Supai Canyon Health Station.

The second grant extends that reach further allowing the hospital to put telemedicine carts at the following rural Indian Health Service and tribally-governed healthcare facilities and clincs: Chinle Comprehensive Health Care Facility, Tsaile Health Center, Hopi Health Care Center, Kayenta Health Center, Inscription House Health Center, Winslow Indian Health Care Center and Hildale Health Service Center in Hildale, Utah.

While the first grant was primarily concerned with cardiovascular and pulmonary patients, the new grant has been opened up for all chronic diseases and includes children, too.

Gigi Sorenson, director of the Northern Arizona Healthcare Telehealth program, said that FMC was honored to receive the grant again.

"This was a great collaborative effort in writing this grant and that was nice to see," Sorenson said.

Stephens said getting the grant was not guaranteed.

"You never know, there is a lot of need across the country," Stephens said, adding that Congress indicated this area is important and has need and that was reflected in the Farm Bill. "The secretary really likes to see these programs reach across the country, especially in rural and tribal areas."

Bill Bradel, CEO of NAH, said the hospital was really grateful for the support from USDA.

"[The services] are well-needed in those areas," Bradel said. "We've had so many great examples of how we are helping people out."

The USDA Rural Office also is working on finalizing water projects in Chinle and Ganado with the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority (NTUA). The Arizona rural office is working with assisting the NTUA with broadband across the Navajo reservation.

On Hopi the broadband would be concentrated in a community center to accommodate village needs.

Stephens said some of the improvements continue on despite administration and priority changes.

"The move to infrastructure is one that is just moving on because it is such a big need everywhere," Stephens said.

The USDA also concentrates on small business development, especially in poor, rural areas, with grants like the Rural Business Enterprise Grant, which sometimes can provide technical assistance to local artisans to market their work.

"The program really focuses on high poverty areas," Stephens said. "That's going to benefit tribal communities in Arizona."

The rural office has also given $167,000,000 as an electric loan with the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority and has worked with building more sustainable housing on different parts of the reservation.

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