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$5.8 million award for U. of Chicago Medicine's community health care

by Jessica Whitfield
May 08, 2012

With $5.8 million in new funding, the University of Chicago Medicine can expand efforts to connect people and health care resources in their communities.

The hospital commanded one of 26 innovation awards for $122 million announced Tuesday by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

"Our innovation helps people stay healthy and manage disease by connecting them to businesses and support organizations in their community," said Dr. Stacey Tessler Lindau, an associate professor for obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Chicago Medicine and lead researcher for the innovation project.

The University of Chicago Health Initiative in partnership with the Chicago Health Information Technology Regional Extension Center and the Alliance of Chicago Community Health Servicers received the award to develop "CommunityRx," a continuously updating database system of health resources and "safety nets," according to Health and Human Services.

“The outcome will be better and more efficient health care delivery and stronger, more vital communities,” Tessler said.

Patients will be able to receive "Health.eRx" referrals relevant to their health conditions. The system is estimated to save $6.4 million in health care costs over three years, according to Health and Human Services.

In a press conference on Tuesday, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said the awards are part of the latest step the department is taking under the Affordable Health Care Act to help America’s doctors and nurses deliver high quality, affordable care to patients.

“Last November we issued a challenge. We asked America’s health care providers, community groups, entrepreneurs and businesses to send us their best ideas on how they can spend health care dollars more wisely by delivering better care,” Sebelius said.

“Our hope is that the most successful projects will become models for the rest of the country,” she said.

Sebelius said the department received over 2,000 award applications. From the 2,000 initial proposals, a team of independent experts and department staff selected the most promising projects, focusing on those were the ones that achieved sustainable success.

The funds for the awards were part of $10 billion appropriated under Section 3021 of the Affordable Care Act for innovation.

Implemented Jan. 1, 2011, Section 3021 states that “the Secretary shall establish the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation (CMMI), the purpose of which is to test innovative payment and service delivery models that may lead to reduced program expenditures while maintaining or improving quality.”

Dr. Richard J. Gilfillan, director of the CMS Innovation Center, said that he expects the innovation award-winning projects to result in several thousand people being hired or retrained.

“We had a variety of items that we asked people tell us about,” Gilfillan said. “We asked them to tell us about how much they would spend on the program, types of new positions they would be establishing as part of the program. We also had them tell us about training programs that would make it successful.”

A second batch will be announced in June.

Sebelius said the awards signify historical efforts for health care providers to innovate their way to better care.

“Thanks to today’s announcement, some of the most promising ideas are being taken off the shelf and put into action,” Sebelius said. “That’s very good news for patients, local economies and the future of our health care system.”

Other grants were awarded to Emory University in Atlanta, Ga., University Hospitals of Cleveland and the Center for Health Care Services in San Antonio, Texas.