Grant brings technology to rural med centers


HOWARD WEISS-TISMAN , Brattleboro Reformer

TOWNSHEND -- Amy Visser-Lynch, a nurse in Grace Cottage Hospital’s Emergency Department, was pretty impressed when she went to a seminar last year on the latest telemedicine technology.

Visser-Lynch saw the high tech equipment that allows a doctor, who can be any where in the world, to interact with a patient, accessing all of the charts and information while monitoring the patient in real time.

Visser-Lynch knew Grace Cottage Hospital would need some serious help to purchase the equipment and that help was announced earlier this week.

Grace Cottage Hospital was one of 41 rural medical centers in Vermont and New Hampshire that will share in almost $1 million in U.S. Department of Agriculture grants that will help purchase the equipment and pay for training.

The grants were awarded to Dartmouth-Hitchcock and its Center for Telehealth, and will serve six counties in New Hampshire and seven counties in Vermont.

"This is a huge ‘plus’ for Grace Cottage, and for the people in this community," Visser-Lynch said. "This equipment will allow us to collaborate with specialists, and improve care without asking our patients to leave their home or families."

Two grants, totaling $998,356 were awarded to Dartmouth-Hitchcock through USDA Rural Development’s Rural Utilities Service.

The money will be used to expand the technology infrastructure, including software and equipment and to purchase telemedical carts that allow medical staff to move the equipment from room to room.

The telemedicine equipment will also be set up at Deerfield Valley Medical Center in Wilmington and at two Dartmouth-Hitchcock Family Medicine centers, one in Walpole and one in Winchester, N.H.

"These grants will give some of the most rural communities in New Hampshire and Vermont access to world class health care usually only found in larger metropolitan areas," said USDA Rural Development Vermont and New Hampshire Director Ted Brady. "Too often rural Americans are forced to travel long distances to access health care. In some cases these distances prevent timely access to routine health care that can turn a minor problem into a life threatening problem."

Visser-Lynch said the equipment will allow Grace Cottage patients to receive the highest level of care at the small Townshend hospital.

She said older, or sick, patients might be unwilling to travel in winter to get the care they might need, and the telemedicine equipment will make it easier, adding to the patient’s overall care and comfort.

"This is not something we would even be able to budget for," Visser-Lynch said. "It’s like winning the lottery. It’s wonderful news."

"This is a game changer for small rural hospitals," said Dr. Sarah Pletcher, medical director for Dartmouth-Hitchcock’s Office of Telehealth. "This is going to help small rural clinics connect with specialists who are outside the region."

Dartmouth-Hitchcock’s Center for Telehealth opened in 2012 to help connect physicians, educators, communication specialists and researchers to bring high quality care to patients in small rural medical centers.

USDA announced 49 grants in 25 states totaling about $16 million this week.

"This is great news for people in rural New Hampshire who have had to travel significant distances at great expense to get the medical care they need," said U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-NH. "With these investments in telemedicine and broadband equipment, Dartmouth’s world-class care will be locally available and affordable for New Hampshire’s rural residents."


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