Telehealth helps Lynn County Hospital District improve access to care, avoid ER visits
Lynn County is a rural area in West Texas. The county consists of four incorporated towns: Tahoka, O'Donnell, Wilson and New Home. The population of the county is 5,915.
Lynn County Hospital District (LCHD) is headquartered in Tahoka, the county seat. The hospital serves Lynn County, Garza County, Borden County and portions of Dawson County. Lynn County Hospital in Tahoka is a critical access hospital, with the next larger hospital located approximately 34 miles away in Lubbock, Texas.
Deploying telehealth to improve access
In an effort to provide more accessible healthcare to Lynn County and the surrounding counties, LCHD applied for and received grants to establish telehealth hubs in Lynn County and the surrounding counties.
One of those grants came from the Federal Communications Commission. In mid-2020, LCHD was awarded $127,980 by the FCC's telehealth funding program for connected devices, a telemedicine platform, a portable tele-clinic briefcase, and other telehealth equipment to decrease patient and healthcare workers' exposure to the COVID-19 virus, reduce routine patient visits to the hospital, allow for continued patient care, decrease patient traffic and healthcare worker caseloads, and reduce PPE use.
"When looking at locations for the telehealth units, we looked at schools, jails and long-term care facilities in the area," said Melanie Richburg, CEO of LCHD. "StarLeaf software is to be installed in each unit for easy access by providers in Lynn County or the provider of choice for each patient.
"The telemedicine technology offers easy accessibility to healthcare, primary care or specialists for the surrounding communities that they would not have otherwise," she continued. "For a resident of Tahoka to go to Lubbock to see a specialist presents a challenge for many. Either they do not drive in the larger town or work locally and an appointment in Lubbock results in a full day off work."
Avoiding ER visits
LCHD is working to secure agreements with several specialists who are willing to use the telehealth system. In addition, for the correctional facilities, providers can be contacted at any time, which can prevent an inmate from being physically removed from confinement and taken to the ER or to a specialist.
"This saves the county tax dollars that would be required to escort an inmate," Richburg explained. "As for the long-term care facilities, the provider can be contacted when a resident is having a problem instead of waiting till the provider makes monthly rounds or having the resident come into the ER."
LCHD to date has three telemedicine units.
"We used the FCC grant award to place one unit at Lynn County Jail, one at Dawson County Jail, and the third has been placed in the COVID unit at the hospital," Richburg noted. "The units located in the jails have allowed for the provider to be contacted multiple times, preventing an inmate from being brought to the hospital. There is only one ER provider for the hospital on duty."
Avoiding cross contamination
When patients come into the COVID-19 unit at the hospital, the telehealth unit allows the ER provider to assess them in and out of the unit without cross contamination.
Presently, LCHD is awaiting disbursement of funds from its second grant, from the USDA, to purchase more telemedicine units with the StarLeaf virtual care software.
"It is the hope of LCHD that each unit will help improve the overall health of the areas in which they have been placed," Richburg concluded. "We are working to establish working agreements with mental health providers to improve access to this care in correctional facilities. We have offered our services to help establish agreements with specialty providers to improve accessibility to the older or limited mobility patients, as well."
Healthcare Everywhere, Every Day
The onset of the COVID-19 crisis a year ago, with its widespread quarantines and lockdowns, offered telemedicine its moment to shine after years of under-fulfilled promise. As states look toward a post-pandemic world it's time to build on that promise.