High-speed connectivity and services will enable leading-edge health care throughout the state
KANAPPOLIS, N.C., Oct. 27 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The partners in the N.C. Telehealth Network (NCTN) project have taken the next step forward in assuring that North Carolina non-profit health care providers have the broadband services needed to improve the health and care of North Carolina citizens by announcing today a $7.2 million contract to connect local public health agencies and free clinics with the NCTN.
The Cabarrus Health Alliance (CHA), the NCTN project coordinator, signed a contract valued at up to $7.2 million with MCNC and the N.C. Office of Information Technology Services (ITS) as a major sub-contractor.
According to the contract, MCNC and ITS will supply reliable high-speed broadband services for the Public Health Phase of the NCTN. This phase supports public health agencies, several of the larger free clinics and several community health centers throughout the state. Services for the first wave of 52 sites are planned to start in the next 60 to 90 days with a second wave of about 20 sites soon thereafter. MCNC and ITS will work with private-sector service telecommunications firms including AT&T, Time Warner Cable and CenturyLink to connect these facilities to NCREN.
The NCTN project is divided into two phases. The first phase covers local public health agencies and some free clinics and community health centers. The second phase, which covers non-profit and university hospitals, is planned to be awarded by early 2011 and be operational by mid-2011. Both NCTN phases are supported by a 2007 pilot program award of $12.1 million from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) as part of the FCC's Rural Healthcare Pilot Program. Cabarrus Health Alliance manages this award. The award is used to subsidize part of the cost of broadband connections for local public health agencies, free clinics, and public and non-profit hospitals. Several for-profit hospitals are expected to participate in the NCTN, but without these subsidies. CHA has obtained formal commitment from the FCC to provide $3.4M in subsidies for the first round of 52 sites under this NCTN phase one contract.
"We are pleased to see this network coming alive now, and expect it to help many health care providers meet the new challenges in using information systems to support health and care, especially non-profit and rural providers," said Dr. William F. Pilkington, CHA Director.
"The NCTN will be focused on the emerging needs of North Carolina and will connect health care facilities with high-speed bandwidth to support leading-edge health care throughout the state, especially in rural areas," said John Killebrew, MCNC's vice president of community support for the North Carolina Research and Education Network (NCREN). "These services are designed to provide the physical network size, reliability, and security needed for day-to-day health data sharing among providers and patients and to support disaster preparation and recovery activities. MCNC is most pleased that much of this funding will flow to our private-sector partners who will provide local circuits to make the connections to NCREN possible."
The NCTN project is a long running collaborative effort among several parties in North Carolina that support improving broadband for health and care.
The CHA is the public health authority in Cabarrus County and became the program coordinator of the pilot project when it was proposed in 2007. Three other N.C. awardees, Albemarle Regional Health System, University Health Services, and Western Carolina University, later merged their pilot program awards of $6.1 million to help fund and support phase two for North Carolina hospitals.
The e-NC Authority, the state initiative to link all North Carolinians to the Internet, has provided invaluable support in developing the original Request for Proposal for bidders for the NCTN phase one, as the NCTN lead for the implementation of the pre-bid administrative activities, and as an evaluator of the bids for the NCTN phase one. It continues to participate as an evaluator of bids in phase 2.
The e-NC Authority Executive Director Jane Patterson noted that "The E-NC Authority has long desired to see a NC Telehealth Network since we began our broadband authority operations in 2001. When asked by the Cabarrus Health Authority to step in and serve as the lead for the implementation of the pre-bid administrative activities and evaluation of the bidders for the NCTN, we immediately responded. With today's announcement, we are delighted to see that this 24-month process has brought the promise of a statewide Telehealth Network to fruition."
The N.C. Institute for Public Health, the service and outreach arm of the Gillings School of Global Public Health, UNC-Chapel Hill, is coordinating phase two for NC's hospitals. Dr. John Graham, the phase 2 project sponsor, notes that "the NCTN project demonstrates what's possible when seemingly disparate organizations commit to a common purpose." NCTN phase one and two have been aided by essential start-up funds and other cooperation from the N.C. Division of Public Health and the Golden Leaf Foundation. The N.C. Association of Local Public Health Directors and the N.C. Hospital Association have acted as focal points to ensure network services meet the needs of the users. Kirby Information Management Consulting, LLC wrote the original proposal and has acted as the overall day-to-day project manager under contract to CHA and e-NC.
There may be a third NCTN phase. The FCC's pilot program was designed to point the way to reforming the permanent broadband support program for non-profit healthcare providers – the Rural Healthcare Program. The provisions in the recent FCC proposal to reform the program make it attractive to pursue a third phase of the NCTN to provide discounted broadband services to non-profit health care providers that could not have been reached with the pilot program funding.
The project partners, with others added as needed, expect to collaborate to pursue this opportunity as the details become public in the next several months. The project website is http://nctelehealthnetwork.com.
MCNC is an independent, non-profit organization that employs advanced networking technologies and systems to continuously improve learning and collaboration throughout North Carolina's K20 education community. MCNC provides advanced communications technologies and support services that enable access to 21st century learning applications and offers the opportunity to improve teaching, learning, research and collaboration among North Carolina's education community. For a quarter century, the 501c3 non-profit organization, MCNC, has operated a robust, secure, exclusive communications network that has connected the institutions of the University of North Carolina System, Duke University and Wake Forest University to each other and through advanced research networks such as Internet2 and National Lambda Rail, to the world. Visit www.mcnc.org.
The North Carolina Research and Education Network (NCREN) is one of the nation's first statewide education and research networks. It provides broadband communications technology services and support to K-12 school districts, higher education campuses and academic research institutions across North Carolina. MCNC offers the NCREN network, technology tools and services to guarantee equal access to 21st century learning by providing a future-proof technology network that is the foundation for change and innovation in our educational systems. It creates possibility and provides an equitable educational experience throughout the state.
About Office of Information Technology Services (ITS)
The Office of Information Technology Services (ITS) provides technology services to state agencies, local governments, and educational institutions across North Carolina. IT services include hosting, network and video services, telecommunications, and enterprise services such as e-mail and calendaring. ITS is located in the Office of the Governor, and the Governor appoints the State Chief Information Officer. The State CIO provides direct management over ITS operations and has statewide IT responsibilities, including technical architecture, procurement, project management, and security. Visit http://www.its.state.nc.us/.
About e-NC Authority
The e-NC Authority is the state initiative to link all North Carolinians - especially those in rural areas - to the Internet. The purpose of this organization is to use the Internet as a tool for helping people to improve their quality of life. Affordable Internet service will provide North Carolinians with increased access to commerce, health care, education and government services. Through the Internet, rural North Carolinians can utilize resources not located in their areas, contact friends and experts, grow their businesses and increase their personal knowledge - all while preserving the lifestyle that is an integral part of who they are. The e-NC Authority was preceded by the Rural Internet Access Authority, and was created on Aug. 2, 2000 by the N.C. General Assembly. The organization became fully functional in January 2001 and is governed by a commission appointed by the governor and the N.C. General Assembly. By legislative mandate, the e-NC Authority is housed and staffed by the N.C. Rural Economic Development Center. Visit www.e-nc.org.