Beacon Community Program Update

Back in December 2009, Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary, Kathleen Sebelius announced that it would make available $235 million from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). The funds would support an innovative program that would accelerate and demonstrate the ability of healthcare IT (HCIT) to transform local healthcare systems toward improving American’s health through the performance of healthcare providers that serve them. The awards are part of a $100 billion federal investment in science, innovation and technology. Through a program, titled the Beacon Community Program, the HHS would provide grant support for the building and strengthen of their health IT infrastructure and exchange capabilities including privacy and security within 15 qualified non-profit or government entities that represent diverse geographic areas, including rural and under served communities. These communities will demonstrate the vision of a future where hospitals, clinicians, and patients are meaningful users of health IT, and together the community achieves measurable improvements in health care quality, safety, efficiency, and population health.

This month, ONC, David Blumenthal, MD, Chief Economist, Jared Bernstein, Vice President, Joe Biden and HHS Secretary, Kathleen Sebelius announced the names of the 15 Beacon Community recipients, listed below, out of 137 applicants.

Community Services Council of Tulsa,Tulsa, OK. – $12,043,948 Delta Health Alliance, Inc.,Stoneville, MS. – $14,666,156
Eastern Maine Healthcare Systems, Brewer ME – $12,749,740. Geisinger Clinic, Danville, PA. – $16,069,110
HealthInsight, Salt Lake City, UT – $15,790,181 Indiana Health Information Exchange, Inc.,Indianapolis, IN. – $16,008,431
Inland Northwest Health Services, Spokane, WA. – $15,702,479 Louisiana Public Health Institute, New Orleans, LA. – $13,525,434
Mayo Clinic Rochester, d/b/a Mayo Clinic College of Medicine, Rochester, MN. – $12,284,770 Rhode Island Quality Institute, Providence, RI – $15,914,787
Rocky Mountain Health Maintenance Organization, Grand Junction, CO. – $11, 878, 279 Southern Piedmont Community Care Plan, Inc., Concord, NC – $15,907,622
The Regents of the University of California, San Diego, San Diego, CA. – $ 15,275,115 University of Hawaii Hilo, Hilo, HI – $16,091,390
Western New York Clinical Information Exchange, Inc., Buffalo, NY – $16,092,485


An additional $30.3 million is currently available to fund additional Beacon Community cooperative agreement awards. An announcement to apply will be made in the near future.

Vice President Biden noted that “These pioneering communities are going to lead the way in bringing smarter, lower-cost health care to all Americans through use of electronic health records. Because of their early efforts, doctors across the country will one day be able to coordinate patient care with the stroke of a key or pull up life-saving health information instantly in an emergency – and for the residents of these communities, that future is about to become a reality.”

One example is in Tulsa, Okla., a community dealing with an epidemic of obesity and type 2 diabetes that has the highest rate of cardiovascular disease deaths in the nation, the award will help 1,600 physicians and other providers participate in a new community-wide health information system that will help them better monitor and improve care transitions as patients move from one care setting to another.

The award is expected to help increase appropriate referrals for cancer screenings, increase access to care for patients with diabetes with telemedicine and reduce preventable hospitalizations and emergency department visits by 10 percent for conditions that could be better handled in clinical settings, yielding a potential cost savings of $11 million per year in the Tulsa area for taxpayers and patients.

Secretary Sebelius and Jared Bernstein noted that the Beacon Community projects are expected to initially create dozens of new jobs in each community paying an average of $70,000 per year for a total of 1,100 jobs up-front, while accelerating development of a nationwide health IT infrastructure that will eventually employ tens of thousands of Americans.

Wm. T. Oravecz is Managing Partner of WTO Associates LLC. Mr. Oravecz has 26 years of experience, holding various senior management positions with major IT solutions and healthcare technology firms. He holds a MBA from University of Connecticut and a SM in Radiology from the Pritzker School of Medicine at the University of Chicago.  Contact him at: