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North country agencies receive $4 million to improve health needs

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North country health care organizations and hospitals will receive more than $4 million in state funding to expand services, as part of the state’s Vital Access/Safety Net Provider Program.

According to a news release from Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, of the total of $45 million in funding, the following north country facilities will receive: $1.2 million to Clifton-Fine Hospital, Star Lake; $2 million to E.J. Noble/Canton-Potsdam hospitals; $383,000 to Jefferson County Public Health Service, Watertown; and $789,000 to Lewis County General Hospital, Lowville.

“Under the Affordable Care Act, it says if patients are readmitted within 30 days (of discharge), hospitals won’t get paid for that,” said Christina L. Flint, Lewis County General Hospital spokeswoman. “We took over for home health care and Hospice in January. Our goal is patients who were not eligible for home health care before is hopefully we can give them services.”

A portion of the hospital’s $789,000 also will be spent on upgrading equipment for telemedicine.

“Then (providers) will be able to monitor some of those patients at home,” Ms. Flint said. “It helps nurse managers monitor that care, too. It’ll help us help (patients) manage their care.”

Lewis County General Hospital interim Chief Financial Officer Jeffery Hellinger said he is looking forward to the implementation of just that.

“This will help patients receive vital access to care in our area,” he said.

Vital Access/Safety Net Provider Program funds are designed to expand access to ambulatory services, open urgent care centers, improve quality, expand services in rural areas, establish care coordination and provide more effective services.

Those funds will support projects over the next three years at facilities “that were selected due to their serious financial condition and critical role in providing services to New York State’s fragile, elderly, and low-income population,” according to the news release.

Established by the Medicaid Redesign Team, the Vital Access program has a total $182 million from the state Department of Health. Of the recent $45 million in awards, $5 million was set aside for critical-access hospitals. It was unclear Tuesday whether Clifton-Fine, a critical-access hospital, would receive additional funds. River Hospital, a critical-access hospital in Alexandria Bay, will not receive a portion of those funds, as it is not eligible for them, according to CEO Ben Moore III. Vital Access/Safety Net Provider program Phase 1 awards, totaling $56 million, were given out in September 2012. An additional $80 million in program funds remains available.

The state Department of Health will work closely with the north country hospitals and organizations that received an award and will help those facilities develop goals. The federal government also will have to put its stamp of approval on the plans, and then funds will be released in February. Payments will depend on progress made at each facility.

Calls seeking comment to representatives at Clifton-Fine Hospital and E.J. Noble/Canton-Potsdam hospitals were not immediately returned Tuesday. Jefferson County Public Health Service Director Ginger B. Hall was unable to comment Tuesday, as she was out of the office.

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