Mobile medication program wins 1st Rural Health Award

BUIES CREEK — A mobile medication program designed to reduce hospitalization costs for seriously mentally ill individuals in rural Pennsylvania won the first national Innovations in Rural Health Award on April 26 at an event hosted in Campbell University’s Butler Chapel.

The Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust, one of North Carolina’s largest private philanthropies, launched the Rural Health Award to recognize innovative rural health work from around the country and plans to explore possibilities for implementing the winning project in the state in the coming year.

“Pennsylvania’s mobile medication program reflects an aggressive response to a systemic mental health problem and exemplifies the type of solutions the Trust is looking for to improve the health of rural North Carolinians,” said Allen Smart, director of the Health Care Division at the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust. “All through North Carolina, people and their communities are facing similar urgent challenges, and we think we can learn from Pennsylvania’s experience moving forward.”

At the Rural Health Award event held at Campbell, four finalists from around the country presented their innovative ideas about how to tackle entrenched health issues in rural areas to a crowd of more than 125 stakeholders from North Carolina’s health care community.

Chosen from nearly 200 submissions from around the U.S., the finalists’ projects included the mobile medication program in Pennsylvania; a community-wide approach to substance abuse in Dare County, N.C.; mindful listening curriculum to improve student behavior in rural Louisiana; and a breast health awareness program for Latinas in North Central Florida.

The winning organization, Human Services Center, a community-based mental health and substance abuse provider in northwestern Pennsylvania, received a $25,000 prize. The remaining three finalists each received $7,500.

The Human Services Center’s six-step, skill-building mobile medication program begins with an in-person visit to the patient for every dose of medication ordered, followed by a daily visit. That’s then scaled down to a weekly phone call before patients are discharged from the program. Mental health workers travel by van to their clients’ homes and have a broadband-enabled laptop that allows them to enter data on each client remotely. In its first year, the program helped reduce hospitalization costs in the area by more than $1.3 million.

Rural Health Award entries were judged on five criteria:

ability to address long-standing issues of prevention or treatment

transferability to rural and economically distressed regions of North Carolina

consistent with high-impact work in other rural places

potential for impact within three to five years

signs of success

A National Review Committee scored the entries and assisted Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust staff in narrowing down the pool to the four finalists honored at Campbell. After the Rural Health Award event, guests were invited to tour Campbell’s new School of Osteopathic Medicine and to network with the finalists and National Review Committee members to learn more about their work.

The Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust plans to continue the Innovations in Rural Health Award in 2014.

Pictured from left to right: Kate B. Reynolds Trust President Karen McNeil-Miller and Health Care Division Director Allen Smart, Human Service Center (Pennsylvania) Director of Clinical Services Michele Kelly-Thompson and Mobile Medication Nurse Coordinator Joni Cook