As a major milestone for healthcare in New Mexico and Indian Country, the Center for Telehealth (CfTH) at the University of New Mexico’s Health Sciences Center (UNM HSC) has facilitated access to $15.4 million in funding from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Rural Health Care Pilot Program that is building telehealth network infrastructure for rural New Mexico and parts of the Navajo Nation. As the project coordinator, UNM CfTH has assisted multiple participating healthcare stakeholders in receiving and administering their share of these funds to build and pay for the operations of enhanced high-speed broadband networks. These networks will support telehealth operations as part of the Southwest Telehealth Access Grid (SW TAG).

The FCC funding of $15.4 million covers 85% of the costs for construction, hardware, and operation costs of this network. SW TAG is receiving funding through the FCC Rural Health Care Pilot Program being managed by the Rural Health Care Division of the Universal Services Administrative Company (USAC). This extensive SW TAG project has entailed significant administration and project management by UNM HSC Center for Telehealth staff, with financial support from UNM, allowing them to work as a team with all healthcare stakeholders, the FCC, and their management partner, the Universal Services Administrative Company (USAC), in receiving and administering these funds.

Telehealth is healthcare delivered at a distance, using communications networks and information technologies. This concept is particularly applicable to rural communities, where access to healthcare services are often limited, affecting the health and welfare of their citizens, the communities as a whole, and their economic viability and development.

This enhanced broadband network has the potential for linking hundreds of healthcare sites and provide the critical infrastructure to support access to telemedicine services, health education, training, research, and health information exchange. Not only can telehealth increase access to care, there is mounting evidence that, at the same time, it can improve health outcomes and reduce costs.

“The healthcare stakeholders in this project have played a critical role in bridging serious healthcare gaps through the development of adequate, affordable broadband infrastructure to communities in their regions,” said Dale Alverson, MD, Medical Director of CfTH the Principal Investigator and Project Coordinator, working in coordination with UNM Chief Information Officer, Gilbert Gonzales, and co-Principal Investigator on the project.

“The project leverages, to a large extent, existing statewide and regional network infrastructure and investments already in place. Most importantly, the SW TAG will create the platform to more effectively share, distribute and coordinate telemedicine, as well as securely exchange health information, across New Mexico and the Southwest, working together to improve healthcare access and to create a future network of networks of healthcare systems to better serve our rural communities using telemedicine and health information technologies,” said Alverson.

The collaboration of healthcare organizations being lead by the UNM CfTH includes the Primary Care Association, San Juan Regional Medical Center, Mental Health Services in Carlsbad, Albuquerque Area Indian Health Services, and stakeholders on the Navajo Nation; Ft. Defiance, and Winslow service units, Presbyterian Health Systems, UNM Hospital and UNM Health Sciences Center. Other future participants in this developing network include the LCF Research Health Information Collaborative (NMHIC) and the Arizona Telemedicine Program.

 


Contact: Cindy Foster, 272-3322