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USDA grant to help Vidant Health expand quality care to rural areas

June 06, 2012 by Barbara Dunn

USDA grant to help Vidant Health expand quality care to rural areas 

GREENVILLE – A grant from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) will help Vidant Health increase access to specialized intensive care for patients in four eastern North Carolina counties. 

USDA Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan today announced Distance Learning and Telemedicine grants for two eastern North Carolina groups. 

Vidant Health received $161,000 to purchase video and audio telemedicine equipment to increase access to specialized intensive health care in four of its regional hospitals. With Vidant Medical Center serving as the hub for tertiary care, the medical center will extend its specialty services to Vidant Duplin Hospital in Duplin County, Vidant Roanoke-Chowan Hospital in Hertford County, Vidant Chowan Hospital in Chowan County and Vidant Edgecombe Hospital in Edgecombe County. 

“Access to quality medical care around the clock is the foundation for a healthy, thriving community,” Merrigan said. “USDA Distance Learning and Telemedicine grants such as those awarded today to Vidant Health and the Ocracoke Health Center ensure all North Carolina residents have crucial access to state-of-the-art telecommunications equipment, connecting patients with medical professionals.” 

Dave McRae, chief executive officer of Vidant Health, said the funds will help doctors in rural hospitals keep patients in their local community hospitals when it is safe and appropriate to do so, rather than transferring them to Vidant Medical Center for intensive care. 

“This grant is a step in the right direction of allowing patients to receive much-needed intensive care closer to home,” McRae said. “This will increase our community doctors’ ability to deliver the high-tech care patients need, closer to home.” 

Of the four regional hospitals engaged in the program, only Vidant Edgecombe Hospital has an intensive care specialist, commonly known as an intensivist. As a result, patients requiring intensive care often are transported to Vidant Medical Center, the 861-bed flagship hospital in Greenville. 

With funding from the USDA grant, Vidant Health will purchase equipment to help patients stay in their communities and receive the best quality care possible close to home. Doctors and nurses will use video conferencing units, laptops with cameras and software that supports telemedicine across the Vidant Health network. The equipment is portable; doctors and nurses can roll it into a patient’s room so the doctors, nurses, patients and even family members can communicate instantaneously. 

Because of the portability of the equipment, regional hospital doctors will be able to consult with an intensivist at either the hospital, the office or home. 

Dr. Mark Mazer, director of the Vidant Medical Center Medical Intensive Care Unit and division chief of pulmonary, critical care and sleep medicine at the Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University, said telemedicine offers tremendous possibilities for patients and physicians in a region as large as eastern North Carolina. 

“From a holistic perspective, patients and their families are best served being cared for in familiar surroundings,” Mazer said. “It will provide physicians in the smaller, local hospitals access to expertise, which will allow them to confidently care for their patients closer to home.” 

Mazer added that by avoiding the stress and hardship of transfer to a larger, unfamiliar facility for care, patients and their families will feel more at ease. 

“An additional benefit will be less demand for intensive care unit beds at Vidant Medical Center, thus better assuring the most critically ill patients access to these beds when in need,” Mazer said. 

Through its Rural Development mission area, the USDA administers and manages housing, business and community infrastructure and facility programs through a national network of state and local offices. These programs are designed to improve the economic stability of rural communities, businesses, residents, farmers and ranchers and improve the quality of life in rural areas. 
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