FCC grant enables UI medical college to network better

By Brittany Abeijon

The state of Illinois was awarded a $21 million grant from the Federal Communications Commission on Nov. 28 that will connect 85 rural hospitals and clinics to a shared fiber optic network and improve access to quality health care and communication capabilities across the state.

The University is one of 12 institutions in Illinois to receive funding from the Federal Communications Commission’s Rural Health Care Pilot Program, an initiative aimed at improving health-related communications infrastructure nationwide.

The College of Medicine at the University will develop health education programs to be circulated throughout the network. The programs are planned to become available beginning next year.

Diana Dummitt, associate director of development at the College of Medicine, is very excited about the opportunity to be a part of this project.

“This is a fabulous opportunity to show what we do here in excellence,” Dummitt said.

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The network will allow health care providers in rural areas to consult with specialists, monitor patients in remote locations, and transmit and receive large files such as MRI scans, getting almost instantaneous feedback.

“Part of our mission is to help all people in the state of Illinois, not just (the University),” Dummitt said. “(The College of Medicine has) great relationships with Carle and Provena, and now, we can collaborate with other hospitals in Chicago as well.”

The network will be created by linking up to current fiber optic networks, installing some new fiber-optic lines in various areas and using wireless broadband transmitters to fill in the gaps.

The part of the grant the University receives will go to CITES to build this virtual road and bridge the gaps between broadband connections in the area.

Carle Foundation Hospital, one of the seven hospital networks in the program, is working closely with the University to ensure expansion of telemedicine services in central and southern Illinois.

Although Carle is working to expand the network, it has been offering telemedicine services in seven different specialty areas since 1994, said Mike Harrison, public relations specialist for Carle Foundation Hospital.

“This allows for Carle physicians to build and develop relationships and partner with colleagues in the region,” Harrison said. “It also allows us to learn more about challenges and successes of rural hospitals as they strive to provide excellent service to people in local areas.”

According to a Carle Foundation Hospital press release, the network will have broadband speeds ranging from 100 megabytes to one gigabyte of information per second.

“Right now our total connection is to about 20 facilities,” Harrison said. “But the grant is really meant to expand services throughout Illinois and build the infrastructure for remote areas where high-speed internet is not available.”

Grant funds are going to:

Northern Illinois University

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign College of Medicine

Southern Illinois University School of Medicine and Telehealth Networks and Programs

Illinois State University Mennonite College of Nursing

Metropolitan Research and Education Network

llinois Critical Access Hospital Network

TriRivers Health Partners

Sinnissippi Centers

Ben Gordon Centers

Janet Wattle Centers

Carle Foundation Hospital

Delnor Community Hospital

SOURCE: Carle Foundation Hospital Press Release