Community Health Center of the North Country awarded $328K for telehealth improvements

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Dec. 22—CANTON — The Federal Communications Commission has awarded the Community Health Center of the North Country $328,000 to improve its telehealth capabilities.

"We are thrilled to be awarded," said Ray Babowicz, director of communications, government relations and marketing.

Even before the pandemic, the health center was ramping up its efforts to deliver its services through technology, Mr. Babowicz said.

"COVID sped that up," he said.

The grant from the FCC will be used for the purchase of telemedicine video conferencing equipment, telemedicine carts and remote patient-monitoring equipment, and to provide behavioral health, dietary, and medication counseling to developmentally disabled residents, as well as behavioral health and primary care services to patients.

"We use telehealth in all aspects of health care," Mr. Babowicz said.

It gets good usage in primary care and mental health care, but can also be utilized in a traditional hands-on practice like dentistry, he said.

In dentistry, the hygienist does the bulk of the work, with the dentist coming in after the initial exam and cleaning to make decisions on future care. With a telehealth setup, the dentist does not have to be in the room, and could be in Gouverneur while the patient is in Canton.

"In rural America," Mr. Babowicz said, "it's a game-changer."

Telehealth helps people get past challenges that keep them away from care, he said.

It is particularly important at this time when many people have put off care due to concerns about coronavirus infections and are starting to come back to health care systems.

The FCC grant will help Community Health Center build out and expand its current telehealth offerings and make them more sustainable.

Even when the pandemic is past, telehealth will continue to be beneficial and necessary in rural communities, Mr. Babowicz said.

The Community Health Center of the North Country is a federally qualified health center, with locations in Ogdensburg, Canton, Malone and Gouverneur. It receives federal funding to enhance the provision of primary care services to under-served communities, regardless of a patient's ability to pay, through the use of sliding fee discounts.

For more information on the Community Health Center of the North Country, visit www.chcnorthcountry.org or call 315-713-9350.

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