Local Program Spotlight

Utilizing Technology and Philanthropic Investment to Rethink How and Where Health Care Takes Place

Chicago, Ill. (April 7, 2022) – In communities across its ministry, CommonSpirit Health is making advances in telehealth as a result of significant philanthropic investments. The COVID-19 pandemic, while not the sole reason for these advances, served to underscore the importance of innovative exploration into how and where health care delivery happens.

In keeping with its commitment to serve the common good, CommonSpirit embraces its responsibility to develop new ways to improve health for all. Made possible through millions of dollars in philanthropic grant funding from government entities, trusts and non-profit organizations, and generous individual donors, programs are being conceived, developed and implemented to address the spectrum of care. From services for pregnant mothers to behavioral health and chronic disease management, telehealth increases access to quality health care directly to individuals.

For many, the COVID-19 pandemic increased feelings of isolation and stress. For already vulnerable individuals and communities, it further cut off important in-person support from family and friends. According to a California study, one in five women will experience distressing emotions, anxiety or depression either during their pregnancy or up to a year after giving birth. With initial funding from the Hearst Foundation and donors to Mercy Foundation, Dignity Health Mercy Medical Group’s “New Parent Telehealth Counseling Program” offers free telehealth counseling for pregnant women and new parents in the Sacramento area and surrounding communities.

In Roseburg, Oregon, a grant from the Federal Communications Commission is helping to increase telehealth services in rural schools thanks to a collaboration between Roseburg’s Mercy Foundation, CHI Mercy Medical Center, Cow Creek Indians Health and Wellness Center and Evergreen Family Medicine. The program’s partners have implemented school-based telehealth clinics, providing direct access to primary care for school-aged children, including access to diabetes and ancillary services.

Rural Americans experience significant health disparities, often characterized by indicators such as higher incidence of disease and or disability, increased mortality rates, low life expectancies and higher rates of pain and suffering. Across Arkansas, Iowa, Kentucky, Minnesota, North Dakota and Nebraska, nearly $6.2 million in funding from the Federal Communications Commission’s Connected Care Pilot Program is bringing CommonSpirit together with a network of partners, including 36 clinics, to address these health disparities. The goal of the program is to provide patient-based, internet-connected remote monitoring, video visits and remote treatment to vulnerable populations, especially low-income rural residents in medically underserved areas and health professional shortage areas.

Based in Lexington, Kentucky, the CHI Saint Joseph Health Foundations and CHI Saint Joseph Health Hospital’s “Telehealth Solutions for Rural Kentucky,” is a $2.1 million project serving 50 counties and more than 3,000 patients. Grant funding purchased monitors, tablet devices and home health monitoring equipment for the hospital’s patients being treated by the cardiology, pulmonology and neurology practices, for chronic diseases.

In North Dakota, a similar program, providing remote patient monitoring for older patients in rural areas, was made possible with funding from the Otto Bremer Trust. This program provides home-based support for chronic disease management.

With a four-year $1.2 million grant from the Health Resources and Services Administration (an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services) CommonSpirit’s CHI Health-Midwest Division, the largest provider of inpatient psychiatric services in the region, launched the “Behavioral Health Evaluation and Transfer Service” (BHETS) program. BHETS was designed to address the need for expanded behavioral health services in rural communities where there is a scarcity of providers and emergency departments have limited expertise and experience in treating mental illness. On-site doctors and nurses work alongside highly-trained remotely-based practitioners through an expanded tele-behavioral health model to improve 24/7 patient access.

Telehealth programs like these help CommonSpirit deliver care where it is needed most while addressing the inequities that impact the health of the communities we serve. Philanthropy, in all of its forms, drives innovation and while the COVID-19 pandemic may have been a catalyst for increased investment into programs like those mentioned above, the shift has already taken place and their value has already been demonstrated. Across the 21 states that CommonSpirit serves, the system has accommodated more than two million telehealth visits since the start of the pandemic.