BOSTON--(BUSINESS WIRE)--The FQHC (Federally Qualified Health Center) Telehealth Consortium (the “Consortium”) has received a grant from the Digital Equity Fund of the Essex County Community Foundation in partnership with the Massachusetts Broadband Institute (MBI) at the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative. The $226,660 grant, funded by the Commonwealth’s “Partnerships for Recovery” initiative, will support a new Telehealth Navigator Program that will increase access to telehealth while also addressing digital equity in under-resourced communities located in Essex County, including Lynn, Salem, Peabody, and Gloucester.
“Embraced throughout the pandemic by patients and providers for convenience and ease of access, telehealth is still a challenge for many in low-income, non-English speaking, or Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) communities,” says Christina Severin, Co-founder of the Consortium and President & CEO of Community Care Cooperative (C3), a leading Accountable Care Organization (ACO) that advances community-based care for MassHealth members.
“The Telehealth Navigator Program is designed to overcome barriers to telehealth and provides a model approach to regional philanthropy collaboration that we are eager to replicate throughout the Commonwealth,” says Michael Curry, Co-founder of the Consortium and President & CEO of the Massachusetts League of Community Health Centers, the membership association for the state’s 52 community health centers.
The opportunities for patients and caregivers to access telehealth include:
- Reliable access to broadband and Wi-Fi internet, smartphones and/or computers, and private spaces in which to carry out telehealth visits
- Involvement of interpreters to aid in communication during appointments
- Understanding of and engagement with telehealth as a safe and effective modality of care
- Fostering patients’ digital literacy with and confidence in virtual care
The two FQHCs participating in this Telehealth Navigator Program, Lynn Community Health Center and North Shore Community Health, will hire telehealth navigators from within the communities they serve and who will participate in a statewide learning community focused on training and integration with key healthcare services. The navigators will engage patients in telehealth, including those who are Black, Indigenous and People of Color, patients who prefer to be served in languages other than English, and elderly patients – all groups that are at risk of being left behind by telehealth. The navigator will connect patients to technology and digital literacy resources and provide hands-on assistance in helping them use technology to access health care via telehealth.
“Health equity and digital equity are so closely intertwined, especially in a post-pandemic world where virtual care is increasingly becoming the norm,” says Stratton Lloyd, Executive Vice President and COO of Essex County Community Foundation. “Even so, transitioning to this new kind of healthcare is not a reality for so many residents of Essex County, where one out of every five households lacks even a basic computer and 59,000 households don’t have fixed broadband. This lack of technology, combined with language, digital literacy and other barriers, is disproportionately disrupting healthcare access for a lot of people – particularly for non-English speakers, BIPOC communities and seniors. We need to work together to change that, and we believe the Telehealth Navigator Program is a huge first step.”
The Massachusetts Broadband Institute (MBI) at the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative is working to extend high-speed Internet access to homes, businesses, schools, libraries, medical facilities, government offices, and other public places across the Commonwealth. The state agency also manages digital health-focused initiatives and programs that promote the expansion of health IT and digital health technologies statewide.
“We are excited to support and fund the Telehealth Navigator Program, which will help address the technology barriers of patients by teaching them how to effectively use telehealth and remote monitoring devices,” says Michael Baldino, MBI Director and General Counsel. “Assessing the program’s impact means that the program will be continuously improved, not only to benefit the people of Essex County, but also to extend those learnings to patients in communities across the Commonwealth.”
The FQHC Telehealth Consortium, which is sponsoring the program, is a partnership of C3 and the Massachusetts League of Community Health Centers. The Consortium was established to address health disparities through telemedicine, achieve sustainable telehealth capacity at FQHCs, and measure, evaluate, and disseminate learnings. More than one in eight residents in Massachusetts rely on FQHCs for their health care, many of whom come from low-income communities and/or communities of color.
Community Care Cooperative (C3) is a 501(c)(3) Accountable Care Organization (ACO) that leverages the proven best practices of ACOs throughout the country and is the only ACO in Massachusetts founded and governed by Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHC) and exclusively focused on advancing integrated and coordinated community-based care for MassHealth members. C3 works with its 18 member FQHCs to strengthen health centers across the state, and continued growth enables C3 to better serve MassHealth members across the Commonwealth. To view a list of C3 health centers, click here.
The Massachusetts League of Community Health Centers (the MassLeague) is a 501 (c)(3) membership organization supporting and representing the Commonwealth’s 52 community health centers, which offer primary and preventive care to more than one million residents. The MassLeague serves as an information resource on community-based primary care to policymakers, opinion leaders, and the media. It provides a wide range of technical assistance to its health center members, including advocacy on health policy issues, support for workforce development, clinical care and technology initiatives, and guidance to state leaders and community-based organizations seeking to open health centers.