Merced County health centers get boost from grant

Collaborative will receive $475K a year for 3 years

yamaro@mercedsunstar.comJanuary 26, 2013 

Health centers in the San Joaquin Valley, including two in Merced County, will benefit from a grant designed to ensure proper use of health information technology.

The Golden Valley Health Centers and the Livingston Medical Group are part of the Central Valley Collaborative. The collaborative consists of 15 health care centers in the Central Valley and in the Central Coast.

The collaborative will receive $475,000 a year for three years to help the the health centers continue their use of electronic health records, said Ray Parris, chief information officer for Golden Valley.

Those funds are part of the $18 million in Affordable Care Act dollars that were awarded to 37 health center networks across the country for this project, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The grant funds will help cover the salaries of Central Valley Collaborative personnel who work with its health centers to ensure they are meeting all the criteria for implementing electronic health records system, Parris said.

It's more than just buying the software, Parris said. "It's using it in a meaningful way," he added.

Golden Valley began to go paperless in 2010. The whole shift to electronic records hasn't been easy, Parris said.

"It's a big change," he said. "It takes time to learn the system, so it slows down the productivity."

Leslie McGowan, chief executive officer for the Livingston Medical Group, agreed that the transition has been a little challenging.

"I think it's a complete change from how they've been trained to practice medicine," she said of the doctors working at the health centers. "It's a change and it's challenging. There's definitely going to be a learning curve."

Still, she said her medical group's providers are showing enthusiasm for the change because that's the direction the health care industry is going.

Officials believe those efforts will pay off.

Medical errors will be reduced by electronic prescribing, Parris said.

It will allow health centers to have more accurate record- keeping and staff members will have to learn a different set of skills to adapt to the technology, McGowan added.

"You become more efficient using software," Parris said. "I think the long-term goal is having these data electronically in a way that you can measure what you are doing to improve patient care."

McGowan said the grant will help keep those efforts moving forward.

"It's a collaborative approach, we are not out on our own," she said.

Reporter Yesenia Amaro can be reached at (209) 385-2482 or yamaro@mercedsunstar.com.

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