New telehealth station opened

Fulton County Public Health Director Irina Gelman demonstrates the Telehealth program portal station at Fulton-Montgomery Community College for state Sen. James Tedisco, R-Glenville, on Friday. The station is at the college’s Public Safety Office on campus. (The Leader-Herald/Michael Anich)

JOHNSTOWN —The Fulton County Public Health Department and local and state officials cut the ribbon on a new Telehealth program station at Fulton-Montgomery Community College.

The station is one of three the pilot initiative will be using. The other health stations are set up at the health department on Route 29 and the Fulton County Office for Aging/Youth on North William Street.

“This is a monumental occasion in our community,” said county Public Health Director Irina Gelman, prior to cutting the ribbon.

She has said Fulton County is the first county in the United States to implement a countywide Telehealth initiative to provide a viable solution to the increased need for improved access to care. She said the benefits of Telehealth include proven, evidence-based cost and time effectiveness, and may have a major impact on overall health outcomes in the community.

Friday’s ceremony was attended by various community leaders and state officials, including state Sen. James Tedisco, R-Glenville. Prior to the ribbon cutting, Gelman, who has spearheaded the pilot program, gave Tedisco a demonstration on the new Telehealth station inside the FMCC Public Safety Office.

“We’re preserving that continuity of care,” Gelman told the senator.

She said those with health insurance will be able to access an appointment remotely and pay a co-pay just like a regular office visit.

With Telehealth, patients don’t have to travel to the health institution to receive initial care from a professional. The program links them up by computers. The new effort began last summer and is aimed at improving health care access throughout the county and decreasing rehospitalizations and unnecessary emergency room visits. The aim is eventually to provide the residents of the county, which has many rural areas, with easier physical and electronic access to health care providers through Telehealth stations.

Participants will have ready access to their health care providers, such as physicians, physician assistants or nurse practitioners. This can include clients’ minor-to-major emergent health issues or something as routine as prescription refills.

Gelman explained the latest technology, available to the students and staff of FMCC, is capable of connecting the participant in real time to healthcare providers at Nathan Littauer Hospital or St. Mary’s Healthcare via an encrypted HIPAA/ FERPA-compliant platform.

Gelman thanked various officials and public sector entities for assisting her department in getting Telehealth up and running. They included: Tedisco, the Fulton County Board of Supervisors, Adirondack Health Initiative, her own department; and Perry Lovell, director of the county Information Services Department, “for making the technology magically happen.”

Others credited by Gelman included Community Services Director Ernest Gagnon, Nathan Littauer Hospital and St. Mary’s Healthcare, the state Department of Health and the Fulton Montgomery Regional Chamber of Commerce.

Tedisco joked that with his doctor he has to “camp out outside his home” sometimes to get care. But the senator said Fulton County’s new Telehealth program is destined to succeed in keeping local residents healthy, and it can be expanded to “wider areas.”

Dottie MacVean, an aide for state Assemblyman Marc Butler, R-Newport, said he couldn’t attend the ceremony. But she read a letter from Butler, who was thrilled Fulton County has an easier way to access health care and predicted Telehealth will provide a “better quality of life.”

“We’re delighted to be part of this pilot,” said FMCC President Dustin Swanger.

If a student doesn’t feel well on campus, he said they can sometimes be sent by taxi to a hospital emergency room. He said Telehealth will at least help with providing a more immediate, triaged assessment.

“This presents us with an opportunity,” Swanger said. “It’s very important for our students.”

State Department of Health representative Jan Chytilo added that Telehealth is a “very innovative way” to have communities and their health care professionals work together.

Michael Anich covers Johnstown and Fulton County news. He can be reached at [email protected]

By Kerry Minor

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