Anti-poverty group forms Athens Health Network seeking federal funds

The anti-poverty group OneAthens is going after federal grants to create a system allowing doctors to save time and money by sharing patients’ medical information electronically.

Paul Boumbulian, a health care expert the University of Georgia hired last year to follow through on OneAthens’ plan to improve local health care for the uninsured and underinsured, is talking to Morehouse College, where he once taught, about setting up the system.

“We do not have a system in Athens-Clarke County that connects everybody,” Boumbulian said.

The 2009 federal economic stimulus act included $375 million for 32 organizations to set up regional electronic certified health record systems. The Morehouse School of Medicine’s National Center for Primary Care received a $19.5 million share.

The electronic system will allow health care providers – hospitals, primary-care doctors, specialists, free clinics, nurses and pharmacists – to access medical records from other providers so they can treat patients more quickly and avoid expensive duplicate tests. Medicare and Medicaid will pay for the necessary equipment, Boumbulian said.

In addition to Morehouse, Boumbulian said he also is working with state officials and the Georgia Regional Health Information Organization, a group that is setting up a similar system in nine Athens-area counties.

To be able to accept grants and donations, the OneAthens health care committee is turning into a nonprofit called the Athens Health Network.

The Athens-Clarke Commission approved a resolution Thursday supporting the Athens Health Network’s goal of using technology like the record-sharing system to create a more efficient, coordinated health care safety net.

The resolution will show foundations and other potential donors that the community supports the effort, Commissioner Mike Hamby said.

The Athens Health Network also plans to go after funding from the new federal health care reform law when that money becomes available in a year or two, Boumbulian said.

The law includes funding for community-based health care programs for the uninsured and underinsured – language almost identical to what the OneAthens health care committee wrote, he said.

“We’re ahead of the nation by a couple of years,” he said.

The Athens-Clarke government, Clarke County school board, UGA, Athens Area Chamber of Commerce and the nonprofit Family Connection founded OneAthens in 2005 to combat the city’s 30 percent poverty rate.

Hundreds of residents attended dozens of meeting over a two-year period and issued a set of 155 recommendations dealing with jobs, transportation, health care, housing, child care and schools.

– Blake Aued: [email protected]
Athens Banner-Herald

Posted June 3, 2010.