Expansion of Health Services in Maine's Rural and Frontier Communities

Cornerstone Cornerstone News

St. Joseph Healthcare’s Jonnathan Busko, MD and a population health team have been participating in two grant-funded initiatives to improve access to healthcare services in rural and frontier communities.

Funded by the Maine Health Access Foundation (MeHAF), Dr. Busko and the team are conducting Community Health Services Access Needs Assessment and Solutions generation projects on Vinalhaven and Monhegan islands. Working with the communities, local healthcare providers and experts, and the municipalities, these projects identify gaps in healthcare access and develop community member proposed solutions, often relying on innovation in workforce and telehealth. Both communities have gone through their needs assessment and workgroup solutions generation process. At this point, the solutions are being taken back to the community for consideration. Once the communities select their top priorities, the islands will determine whether they can implement the solutions and how to do so.

Along the same lines, the team is also executing a grant from HRSA’s Federal Office of Rural Health Policy to improve access to surgical services in rural and frontier communities. This network development grant has two main goals. The first is to figure out how to perform pre-and postop visits through local clinics in rural communities so that patients only have to travel once for their surgery and can otherwise get all their care in their own community. This project explores telehealth and the use of medical assistance as telehealth visit facilitators. The grant is also intended to help develop a rural network amongst all the participating team members to better support each other and provide the greatest quality and range of services possible to their patients. Thus far, medical assistants have rotated with Dr. Michael Starks at St Joseph Hospital to learn what it will take for them to facilitate telehealth visits for him. This will lead to developing a class to teach medical assistants how to run these visits. The St. Joseph Healthcare team and the participating practices have also done an external environmental scan and identified their barriers and opportunities for implementing this and other rural network programs.

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