Tuesday, March 4, 2008

California Providing More Care

To help rural and underserved areas receive medical care, the state of California has just awarded more than $2.7 million to help improve registered nurse training programs. The funds were made available through the Song-Brown program which is administered by the State Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development.

Not only will the programs help nursing students by providing them with more opportunities in nursing, but the funding will also be used to help communities by directing more services to medically underserved areas across the state. The grants range from $80,000 to go to small colleges and for $364,947 to go to California State University, Fresno.

The University of California at Davis has initiated a program called Rural-PRIME in the School of Medicine to expand the entering class size for medical students for the first time in a generation. With this plan, the students in their five years of medical school will have numerous opportunities to train, interact, and live in rural communities. The program will enable the students to use high speed broadband connections in rural learning labs that will provide video links connecting students to patients, physicians, faculty, and specialists at UC Davis in Sacramento.

Also to help increase and provide more access to medical professionals in remote areas, the $22 million grant recently awarded by the FCC will be used to establish a statewide communications network using broadband technology.

The California HealthCare Foundation recently awarded $350,000 in planning grants to seven provider coalitions operating in 16 rural counties. The grants are designed to help providers in rural areas work together to identify ways to improve timely access to specialty care. The purpose is to establish formalized referral relationships between primary care physicians and specialists, and also to use telemedicine to connect patients with doctors in other cities.

Several state efforts are now underway to increase broadband. The California Emerging Technology Fund has a commitment of $60 million for 5 years from SBC/AT&T and Verizon/MCI. At least $5 million will be earmarked to fund telemedicine applications to serve California’s underserved communities particularly in rural areas and to help facilities that have a large number of indigent patients.

The underserved communities include individuals, groups, and organizations that face telecommunications challenges or disadvantages due to physical disabilities, low incomes, inadequate telecommunications infrastructure, language and cultural differences, lack of technological understanding and/or equipment.

The California Advanced Services Fund a two year program will promote universal service in unserved and underserved areas in the state by funding qualified applicant carriers. The Fund collects a 0.25% surcharge from all end users to use to increase the use of broadband, but the money also goes to build facilities in underserved areas if the funds are available. The money will be available starting June 2, 2008.