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FCC funds a signal boost for Coplin Health Services

ELIZABETH — In an effort to enhance telehealth services, Coplin Health Systems was awarded $274,432 from the Federal Communications Commission.

The funds are the first from the FCC to be awarded to the state for the COVID-19 telehealth program, according to Sarah Barton, senior projects manager.

Sen. Joe Manchin’s office worked for the initiative because the senator wanted to see more money from the FCC come into the state, Barton said.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has forced healthcare providers and patients to adjust to new appointment formats, including telephone-based appointments and video-based meetings with their healthcare providers. On April 17, I wrote to the FCC to advocate for the Wirt County Health Services application for funding to provide West Virginians with telehealth services, and today the FCC approved their application,” said Manchin. “This is great news for Wirt County and will help ensure our fellow West Virginians receive the care they need during this crisis. I will continue to advocate for health providers across West Virginia to receive the funding and support they need during this pandemic.”

The grant will be used to enhance their phone systems. The issue was the limit of telephone lines into the sites.

“This will provide an expansion of the telephone system,” Barton said.

With the enhancement of their telehealth program, Coplin Health Systems is hoping to protect not only COVID-19 patients, but other high risk or elderly patients from exposure.

“Coplin Health Center is excited to receive funding for the FCC COVID-19 Telehealth Program. These funds are vital to our organization as we expand our capabilities for telehealth services in primary care and behavioral health. Through this program we will make upgrades to our clinics that will ensure all patients, including COVID-19 positive patients and high-risk populations like our elderly, can continue to access healthcare services with minimal risk to themselves or others. We are grateful to the FCC for supporting our efforts in helping provide quality healthcare to rural West Virginia communities,” Rob Dudley, CEO of Coplin Health Systems said. “We also want to express our appreciation to Senator Manchin and other state representatives for their continued support for healthcare throughout the State of West Virginia during this difficult time in our history.”

Another change that was brought about by the pandemic was the implementation of mobile workstations in the event of another pandemic or emergent situation to decrease response time.

With the new phone systems, everybody will have their own designated phone line so that when people call in, they don’t get a busy signal.

“It takes a lot of telephone resources to do telehealth services. The patient has to get approvals. Our pharmacy has been overwhelmed with telephone calls. It’s going to be a big advancement for our healthcare center as a whole and for our patients to make sure they can continue that,” Barton said.

While Coplin Health Systems previously had phone and video telehealth services for behavioral health patients, primary care services were added due to the pandemic.

“It’s been great because it’s allowed individuals to have access to their providers. We really need that support and to have that ongoing support during this time of crisis is super important,” Barton said.

The pandemic provided an opportunity to speed up the process of offering more advanced telehealth services.

“It’s just really sped up the speed at which we’ve been able to launch it, it’s true for all health care,” Barton said. “It’s definitely advanced telehealth care in ways that would have taken much longer.”

Coplin has already taken steps to launch the required network modifications but the project is set to be completed by Sept. 30.

“This is a huge blessing to health care in West Virginia, especially such a rural state. Funds like this for rural states are vital to maintain health of the people, especially for primary care. It’s primary care that takes care of people who aren’t in an emergency,” Barton said.

Candice Black can be reached at cblack@newsandsentinel.com.

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