California hospitals land $20M to boost care

By Bernie Monegain
09:42 AM

UnitedHealthcare investment aims to help critical access hospitals

CONCORD, CA  -  Critical access hospitals across rural California are poised to benefit from $20 million in investments from UnitedHealthcare aimed at boosting electronic health records and other health information technology.

UnitedHealthcare's investments aim to boost health information technology at 11 hospitals in remote communities.

The hospitals comprise California's Critical Access Hospitals, which are located in remote areas of the state. The facilities have a maximum of 25 beds and are located at least 35 miles from another hospital, or 15 miles from another facility and in mountainous terrain or areas with only secondary roads.

UnitedHealthcare purchased the 11 hospitals' private placement bonds worth $19.4 million with a flexible repayment plan that includes a rebate of up to 10 percent for early repayment. UnitedHealthcare also provided $577,000 in grants to pay for additional financing costs. Earlier, UnitedHealthcare provided $200,000 in grants to the California State Rural Health Association (CSRHA) to assess IT needs at California's Critical Access Hospitals. The funds will be given to healthcare organizations that provide services to underserved, low-income and underinsured communities and populations throughout California. To date, UnitedHealthcare has exceeded the commitment, providing $266 million in total investments to 45 healthcare organizations throughout the state.

As Raymond Hino, chairman of the California Critical Access Hospital Network (CCAHN) Advisory Board and CEO of the Mendocino Coast District Hospital, sees it, the funding from UnitedHealthcare is critical.

"Patients in these remote areas will have access to much of the same quality of care and technological advancements benefiting people who live in more populated areas of the state," Hino said. "These investments are helping improve patient care by transforming our healthcare delivery systems through the use of technology and electronic medical records."

Tim McGlew, CEO of Kern Valley Healthcare District, said the investment would help improve the hospitals' "ability to provide better access to patient medical records and improve their quality of care, particularly in emergency situations."

The Kern Valley Healthcare District received $1.5 million in funding.

 "Without these resources, we would not have been able to upgrade and implement our electronic medical records initiative, which is improving the quality of care and access to medical records to better care for our patients," McGlew said.

UnitedHealthcare worked with the California State Rural Health Association, CCAHN and the California Rural eHealth Information Network (CAReHIN), in assessing the IT needs at the hospitals and providing recommendations on which facilities had the greatest need for the technology improvements.

"The interests of rural people must not be lost or dismissed because of distance, geographic isolation and lack of concentrated resources," said Steve Barrow, executive director of the California State Rural Health Association. 

"UnitedHealthcare understands these important issues and through their funding is helping improve the health of rural Californians and the quality and care infrastructure and ensure that all Californians have access to care," said Dan Rosenthal, West Region CEO, UnitedHealthcare Employer & Individual. It is important, he added, "that rural hospitals have access to technology to enable them to deliver quality care to their patients.

Besides the $21 million in funding for critical access hospitals, UnitedHealthcare has $1.3 million in grants to the California Telehealth Network to help expand telemedicine in rural and medically underserved clinics and hospitals throughout the state.