The Georgia Health Policy Center recently spoke to Joey Flowers, the chief strategy officer for ARcare (a Federally Qualified Health Center serving the tristate area of Arkansas, Kentucky, and Mississippi), about how this grant enabled expansion of their telehealth program through partnerships with emergency medical services (EMS) and nursing homes. 


To date, what has been the biggest accomplishment or win in your telehealth program?  

Luckily, before the COVID pandemic, we had some telehealth knowledge and some telehealth operations within our care. This grant allowed us to take it to the next level — to think outside the box and work with our partners to target different points of entry to health care access and reduce some barriers and challenges with their access. 

Our pilot really focuses on working with the EMT providers to reduce the number of frequent flyers going to the emergency department for non-emergent visits. The second success is that through our partner Unity Health, which has a very large behavioral health program, we can use telehealth visits with nursing home patients for medication management and therapy. It is a challenge to bring a patient from the nursing home to a facility in the community and it is often a lot of trauma for those patients. Keeping them where they are and where they are familiar and having that facilitator on site to connect them to their doctor has been rewarding for them and us. 


What is a tip or early learning that you would share with an organization launching a similar telehealth program?  

Two things that I would suggest as a lesson learned are to get the physicians and the nursing staff on board as you are writing the grant. Include the hospital administrators, obviously, but the boots-on-the-ground is what makes breaks or makes the deal. Second, go see some of the best practices. I will plug the University of Mississippi in Jackson. They have a very strong emergency department telemedicine program, and it is something to see and we learned a lot by visiting. Getting those connections in place to the people on the ground moves you forward faster. 


How do you see participation in the Office for the Advancement of Telehealth’s grant program as impacting your broader telehealth or health improvement efforts? 

ARcare is in three states — Arkansas, Kentucky, and Mississippi. Any grant that may be specific to a region or a subspecialty, we duplicate across this larger three-state footprint. The telehealth services in this grant fall under our care coordination program — to pick up those frequent flyers and make sure that they do not fall through the cracks. It may be food insecurity, it may be loneliness, it may be a health issue that they just couldn’t get to their doctor in a timely manner because of transportation, or it could be a chronic issue that does need emergency attention. We are dissecting through that for each patient. We started with EMT in one county, expanded to a second county, and I have challenged our team to have three more by the end of our year 4. 


What will your organization be doing more of or differently to emerge stronger from the pandemic? 

We spent a lot of money and time on strengthening the platform for service delivery, strengthening the technology internet access, and broadband connectivity. Additionally, every provider — whether a nurse, health provider, behavioral health, or on our care coordination team — went through orientation to be trained on telehealth. We started our telehealth program with our care coordination team doing that continuity of care and transition of care. We already had a pretty good footprint; so, we just flipped a switch and hit the gas when the pandemic hit, purchased everything we needed, conducted quick training, and we were out there letting people know that by calling this number, we will put you on the schedule and give you a link to the telehealth visit. We still are doing 3,000 telehealth visits a month. 

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