Helmsley Trust invests $100M in telehealth for the Midwest

Trustees for the late real estate billionaire Leona Helmsley are sinking $100 million of her $5 billion estate into a state-of-the-art telehealth network in South Dakota and six surrounding Midwestern states, Time magazine reports.

Why South Dakota? It's where one of her grandchildren, Walter Panzirer--a trustee of the Leona B. and Harry M. Helmsley Charitable Trust--happens to live. And it's a segment of the U.S. so remote and sparsely populated that some of its counties still are considered "frontier" areas by the federal government.

With only 800,000 residents spread out over the state's 77,000 square miles, it's "an area of great opportunity [for telehealth]; an area of great needs," Panzirer tells Time. "We think if [eCare] can work out here, it can work anywhere. It's the perfect incubation area, the perfect proving ground." Panzirer himself is a former police officer, firefighter and paramedic.

The funds are building a hub-and-spoke system providing tele-visits to virtual trauma centers and ICUs around the state, linking them to major medical centers in the capital, Sioux Falls. Clinicians in rural hospitals can conduct video conferences with the trauma specialists and other physicians at the Sioux Falls' facilities. The system also has a remote patient monitoring component to beam patients' vital signs to the consulting clinicians, according to Time.

One particularly interesting facet of the program is an "e-pharmacy" unit, where pharmacists monitor multiple computer and video screens, and can prescribe medications electronically to remote patients. Small hospitals have custom medication carts stocked with commonly prescribed drugs, which nurses can use once they have the official prescription. The system even allows pharmacists to guide nurses, via video-conferencing, through the process of compounding meds for preparations not available on the cart, Time reports.

The system also connects ER doctors at small hospitals to experts in urban trauma centers for consults on allergic reactions and catastrophic injuries. The ER specialists can help rural hospital EDs either treat the patient's injury onsite, or stabilize the patient for transport to the trauma center itself.

The Helmsley Trust has even invested $8 million in at-home patient monitoring systems for seniors, tracking mobility, falls and the patient's ability to live at home safely, Panzirer tells Time. It's part of a $65 million Helmsley Rural Health Program that has been ongoing for more than three years.

The trusts' initiative covers six different states and dozens of hospitals owned by different groups, some in competing markets. It's something Jim O'Sullivan, director at Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors--which helped the Helmsley Trust with the program--says he hopes will become a national model. "Patients are going to expect their doctors to work together," he tells Time.

To learn more:
- read the Time article