IRHA secures major grant to support rural hospital IT shortage, partners with Ivy Tech, HealthLINC to create network

TERRE HAUTE, Indiana – To address urgent IT shortages in Indiana rural healthcare, the Indiana Rural Health Association (IRHA), partnering with Ivy Tech Community College and HealthLINC, will create the new Indiana Rural Health Information Education Network (IRHITEN). According to Don Kelso, IRHA executive director, this new network will support Hoosier rural hospital and healthcare information technology operations. The new network will be funded by an initial $300,000 grant (awarded annually and renewable for two years) from the U.S. Department of Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), which was recently awarded to the partnership.

“About 70 percent of Indiana is medically underserved, and better information technology services supporting electronic health records and health information exchanges could help alleviate this situation,” said Kelso. “The creation of this new Indiana Rural Health Information Education Network will provide much needed education and training support for Indiana’s rural hospitals and healthcare operations.”

IRHITENIndiana hospitals across the state face severe competition in securing top IT talent, which is in high demand to fulfill recent legislative requirements associated with the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and to promote high productivity in healthcare delivery. “Many IT professionals prefer to work in urban areas, which makes for high competition for a limited number of IT healthcare professionals,” explained Kelso. “Accordingly, to combat a local rural IT shortage, many hospitals promote IT professionals from within their organizations, which may cause issues if the IT managers don’t come from a traditional IT background.”

The new IRHITEN network will help change that situation by providing targeted training and education for rural healthcare operations. “Short-term, high-quality training opportunities for supportive health IT roles, such as those requiring proficiency in the implementation and meaningful use of electronic health records, is presently lacking,” said Cindy Large, an IRHA project director involved with the establishment of the new network. “We expect to draw on the expertise of Ivy Tech Community College and HealthLINC HIE to help quickly change that situation.”

Large said that the new network will immediately begin work to develop and implement aggressive strategies for new certificate and apprenticeship programs to support existing rural hospital IT professionals, as well as promote the programs to existing Ivy Tech students, veterans, and others who could become IT professionals. The partners will also develop and deliver a 22-week-long certification program focused on two health IT roles: Clinician/Practitioner Consultant, and Workflow and Information Management Redesign Specialist.

In addition to Ivy Tech’s support in training, the partnership will incorporate the services of HealthLINC HIE to deliver the health IT apprenticeship program. HealthLINC HIE (health information exchange) is a not-for-profit corporation, which through its technology and business partnerships with multiple health information exchanges, supports standards-based health information technology (HIT) adoption, health information exchanges (HIE), and innovative use of information for improved health care outcomes. Todd Rowland, MD, chief executive officer of HealthLINC, pointed out: “We have historically provided a rich experience for interns from multiple university settings, including Ivy Tech.” Kelso added: “HealthLINC HIE is well positioned from its work with the multiple HIEs that serve residents of Indiana during the past seven years, leveraging decades of innovation from groups like IHIE [Indiana Health Information Exchange] and HealthBridge.”

The network will also create opportunities to help connect recent graduates and other professionals with health-IT specific jobs. “Our focus is on relieving the shortage of available professionals in health IT for rural healthcare operations as quickly as possible,” Large said.

“Indiana presently has 35 Critical Access Hospitals, 56 Rural Health Clinics and 19 rural hospitals that comprise the health care safety net for rural Indiana,” said Kelso. “This new network will help these healthcare operations deliver high quality healthcare services for nearly one million Hoosiers.”

The $300,000 grant secured by IRHA is renewable for the next two years to fund the joint partnership, Large said.