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Upper Chesapeake gets grant to improve community's health

Health care provider teams will serve Cecil and Harford patients with multiple chronic conditions

The State of Maryland has awarded a four-year $9.2 million grant to major health care services providers in Cecil and Harford counties to create local teams to assist people with treatment of multiple chronic conditions that typically cause them to make frequent hospital visits.

Harford County-based University of Maryland Upper Chesapeake Health and Union Hospital in Elkton are leading the "regional partnership" of providers, according to a recent news release from Upper Chesapeake Health.

"The goal is to improve quality of life through support and care of our more vulnerable neighbors," Lyle E. Sheldon, president and CEO of Upper Chesapeake Health, said in a statement. "Using available technology and a unified approach, we will provide a more efficient and proactive method to serving our community in need."

Helping at-risk residents manage chronic conditions without relying on hospitalization, when feasible, has the potential to help keep overall health care costs in check. Sheldon explained that approach in an interview with reporters and editors from The Aegis earlier this year, where he outlined some of the joint programs being pursued by his organization and Union Hospital.

Upper Chesapeake, which is part of the University of Maryland Medical System, operates Harford Memorial Hospital in Havre de Grace and the Upper Chesapeake Medical Campus in Bel Air, the latter which includes the northeastern Maryland area's largest hospital and ambulatory care and outpatient facilities.

The new grant comes from Maryland's Health Services Cost Review Commission and will be used to "transform the health and well-being of community members in proactive, efficient and innovative ways," according to the June 28 news release.

The Cecil/Harford coalition is one of nine across the state that received funding from the Maryland Health Services Cost Review Commission, according to the news release.

The first allocation of $2.7 million for the Cecil and Harford partnership took effect when the state's 2016-17 fiscal year started July 1. Grant payments will be made over four fiscal years to create and manage what are called WATCH groups (for Wellness Action Teams of Cecil, Harford), which will work with Medicare patients who have at least two chronic conditions, or who make frequent hospital visits.

There will be four teams in the WATCH program, made up of four health care workers, including a nurse, a social worker and two community health workers, who will visit patients either at home or in community locations other than a doctor's office or a hospital.

Team members will use various forms of technology, such as "in-home telemonitoring" and care plans to which multiple providers have access, to help patients keep up with needs such as appointments and their medications, according to the news release.

Other members of the regional partnership include the Cecil and Harford counties health departments and offices on aging, Healthy Harford, Healthy Cecil, federally-qualified health centers in both counties and the state's health information exchange, CRISP.

"Our regional partnership will work together to provide coordinated health care and social resources to Medicare patients who are at high risk for serious health complications," Sheldon stated.

The proposal was the result of seven months of planning. Local health organizations such as Amedisys Home Health, Lorien Health, Harford County EMS, Hart to Heart Transportation and Med Chi participated, according to the news release.

"Providing the best possible care at the right time and in the right place is key to improving the health of our community," Dr. Richard C. Szumel, president and CEO of Union Hospital, said in a statement. "Working with our community partners in Cecil and Harford counties will help us develop and implement new approaches to the ever changing health care landscape."

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