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St. Louis hospitals receive federal telehealth grants

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) awarded its latest round of telehealth grants Tuesday, approving funding for three St. Louis-area hospitals. 

Barnes-Jewish Hospital was granted $996,722 to invest in home monitoring devices, telehealth software, a telemedicine cart, and more. 

CareSTL Health will receive $386,476 to purchase laptops and telemedicine carts, while Washington University was awarded $737,109 for laptops, headsets, and webcams. 

The hospitals were among 75 applicants from across the country approved for funding from the FCC’s COVID-19 Telehealth Program Tuesday. This round approved more than $42 million in total awards.

“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 previously said. “We remain committed to helping facilitate even more innovative health care efforts in every corner of our country.” 

The latest round put the program over $166 million in total awards after four waves of funding. The remaining applicants were allowed to supplement their requests, after which the remainder of the $250 million fund will be administered.

These aren’t the first St. Louis hospitals to benefit from the program: Mercy Health was given $793,788 last month to purchase new equipment, such as telehealth monitors and carts, to allow on-site staff to connect with remote colleagues and collaborate on treatments. SSM Health in St. Louis was awarded $914,400 in August to enhance the quality of socially distanced patient care as the pandemic continues. 

Swope Health Services in Kansas City was also awarded $843,387 for laptops, tablets, and other devices, while the Health Care Collaborative of Rural Missouri was awarded $285,871 to extend telehealth services to patients with chronic conditions in September. 

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. 

Missouri telehealth providers appeared before the House Special Interim Committee on Broadband Development last month, 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, told lawmakers last month telehealth services exploded in popularity in 2020. Around 4,000 of BJC Medical Group’s patients used the option in 2019 while more than 190,000 used telehealth services in 2020. Other providers cited similar increases in telehealth rates over the past 18 months. 

The FCC is investing in technology services across the country and in a myriad of Missouri; hundreds of schools and libraries across the state have been approved for internet connectivity grants, with more than $57 million awarded through the Emergency Connectivity Fund so far.