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Mercy Health St. Louis, Swope Health Services awarded federal telehealth funds

Mercy Health St. Louis and Swope Health Services in Kansas City are the latest Missouri health facilities to be awarded federal funds for telehealth programs

Mercy Health was given $793,788 to purchase new equipment, such as telehealth monitors and carts, to allow on-site staff to connect with remote colleagues to collaborate on treatments. 

Swope Health Services was granted $843,387 for laptops, tablets, and other devices for providers to conduct COVID-19 treatment and testing. Funds will also be used for software and devices used to monitor at-risk patients remotely.   

The funds were awarded through the second round of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) COVID-19 Telehealth Program, which will distribute nearly $250 million to health care centers across the country. More than 70 recipients, including the two Missouri facilities, were announced this week. 

“Advances in telehealth continue to help bridge the gap in health care for our most vulnerable populations and keep Americans connected with their doctors, nurses, and health care providers in the face of the pandemic,” FCC Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said. “With today’s announcement, the FCC has approved more than $123 million in applications for Round 2 of its COVID-19 Telehealth Program — nearly half of the amount allotted in the 2021 Consolidated Appropriations Act. We remain committed to helping facilitate even more innovative health care efforts in every corner of our country.”

These weren’t the first Missouri health care centers to win funding for their telehealth program: The Health Care Collaborative (HCC) of Rural Missouri was awarded $285,871 from the program to purchase tablets and monitoring equipment for patients with chronic conditions so they can receive treatment in their homes last month. 

SSM Health in St. Louis was awarded $914,400 in August to spend on hardware, software, and connected devices to enhance the quality of socially distanced patient care as the pandemic continues. 

The initial round of funding, administered last year, distributed $200 million to more than 530 health centers. SSM received $945,000 from the first round, and health centers in Kansas City, St. Joseph, and Springfield also received funding last year. 

Several Missouri telehealth providers appeared before the House Special Interim Committee on Broadband Development this week, urging lawmakers to appropriate funds for telehealth services and invest in digital literacy initiatives. 

Dr. Michelle Thomas, chief medical information officer for BJC Medical Group, said telehealth services exploded in popularity in 2020. About 4,000 of BJC Medical Group’s patients used the option in 2019 while more than 190,000 used telehealth services in 2020. 

Thomas and representatives from other health care groups said expanding Missouri’s broadband network would also allow more patients to participate.