Despite the main recipient not being present for the first planning meeting, a community group is considering applying for a $15 million Health Information Technology grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Representatives from Putnam County Hospital were conspicuously absent from a Thursday morning meeting that included members of the Putnam County Commission, Putnam County Council, Putnam County Health Department, Putnam County Emergency Management, Economic Development, Greencastle Mayor Sue Murray and State Rep. Nancy Michael.
The group gathered together to hear a presentation from Mike Migliano with Migliano Group, a local consulting firm, to discuss the possibility of Putnam County applying for the grant to develop a countywide health information technology system.
Fifteen entities in the United States will each receive $15 million from the allocated $220 million dollars set aside by President Barack Obama to develop health information technology systems like electronic medical records.
The catch is that a letter of intent must be sent to the department by Jan. 8.
Putnam County Hospital administrator Dennis Weatherford was on vacation this week and no other hospital representatives were at the meeting.
"The first step here is to talk with Dennis Weatherford to even see if the hospital, who would be the main recipient, is interested," said Putnam County Emergency Management Director Kim Hyten.
Migliano told the group that health information technology is behind in the United States.
"Resources such as the American Medical Association and the World Health Care Organization estimate that only about 20 percent of the health care facilities in the United States make effective use of information technology,"said Migliano.
In 2004, President George W. Bush issued an executive order to provide leadership for the development and nationwide implementation of an interoperable health information technology infrastructure. He called for most Americans to have electronic health care records by 2014.
In 2009, President Obama included $19 billion in the Economic Stimulus Package to be directed toward improving health information technology.
The 15 chosen entities receiving the $15 million grants would be test sites that would be charged with tying individual medical records into a system that would be accessible by all medical facilities in the county including ambulance services, hospitals and doctor's offices.
The intent behind the program is for the government to do three things: Improve the coordination of care within the health care delivery system by increased sharing of health information among clinicians; provide individuals with electronic access to their own health and wellness information and to engage them in opportunities for improving their health and well being; and to improve the health of the community using aggregated health data for research, public health, emergency preparedness and quality improvement efforts.
It is also aimed specifically at bringing America's healthcare records into the electronic age.
Michael asked Putnam County Board of Health Director Dr. Robert Heavin his opinion of the county applying for the grant.
Heavin had some concerns about not knowing all the parameters of the grant, the time constraints and the quality of the Putnam County Hospital's current computer system.
"It's been a real struggle. The hospital's computer system has been crap. I'm not sure it is even 15 percent, let alone 25 percent," said Heavin, referring to the grant requirement that entities have at least a 25 percent lead on their information systems.
Without more information, Heavin said he was hesitant about the project.
"It looks like the hospital's revenue is down $1 million for the year, so from a positive aspect if you can get a little money in that would be good," he said.
Other questions revolved around where funds come from after the 30 months and $15 million are gone.
"Who is going to pay for it afterwards?" asked County Council member Nancy Fogle.
Michael summed things up.
"The key is making sure the hospital is onboard," she said. "This group works really well together, but the entity that is going to benefit the most from this is the hospital. We've got to make that conversation happen and make it happen quickly."
The group's next move is to try to meet with Weatherford on Monday to discuss the viability of going forward with the project.