Medical Center needs high-speed broadband

For medical records storage and access
Fri, 10/27/2017 - 9:45am

The Medical Center is facing a potential crisis.

The Center’s staff was recently notified by the company that has been serving its electronic health record storage needs, SOAPware, that it will be shutting down in February. The good news is that the Medical Center has an opportunity to sign with a web-based company, Athena Health Care, that can satisfy its storage needs. The bad news is that the Medical Center does not have adequate internet bandwidth to accommodate the safety and storage of — and access to — those records even if they sign a contract with that new company. 

To address this need, the Block Island Health Services Board unanimously voted to approve an expenditure of up to $45,000 that will do one of two things. Those funds can be used to either tap into an as-yet-to-be-installed fiber optic network that will connect what are being called the “anchor” facilities — the Block Island School, the Island Free Library, and the Medical Center — or the funds can be used to purchase a pair of T-1 lines that can meet the Medical Center’s needs at least until the next busy season.

The news about Soapware was given to the Board by Medical Director Dr. Mark Clark at the Board’s most recent meeting. 

“A big bomb was dropped on us two weeks ago. We received a fax — not an email or phone call — but a fax saying [Soapware] is going out of business on Feb. 28, 2018. The company is closing. Gone. Going away.” Clark said that the Medical Center has been finding ways to “maximize” the internet capacity it has now “while we’re waiting for the broadband.” With this latest news, however, “we have a crisis situation,” he said.

The staff at the Medical Center has been researching Athena Health Care, and Clark said that if a contract is signed on Monday, Oct. 30, Athena will offer an eight percent collection fee — the fee the company takes as payment for each patient bill it processes. Also, the $13,000 that is charged for data migration — moving the records from Soapware to Athena — will be waived. Clark said the first three months of storage will also be free.

Clark said that Athena has been around since 1994, and currently has more than 100,000 health care providers as clients, including 500 in Rhode Island.

“This is a very, very good match for us,” said Clark. 

Finance Specialist Terri Chmiel said Athena could save the Medical Center almost $20,000 a year if Athena charged eight percent on all its billings (based on 2016 billable numbers). If the Medical Center did not sign with Athena on Oct. 30, it would be offered an 8.42 percent collection rate. 

“The problem,” Clark reiterated, “Is that we don’t have broadband to match the quality of service. We have to have broadband and we have to have it now. We need to somehow get broadband to this building in the next month or two.”

Ray Torrey, who sits on both the Medical Center Board and the Broadband Committee, said the issue had been discussed at the Broadband Committee’s most recent meeting (held every Thursday at Town Hall). Torrey said the Broadband Committee was supporting the idea of connecting the anchor facilities in town to the fiber optic strands that are in the Wind Farm’s undersea transmission cable. 

Torrey said that each of the three anchor facilities could help fund the estimated cost, which Torrey said was about $150,000. That figure came from OSHEAN, an IP services company out of North Kingstown that works in the medical and educational sector. 

“Are we absolutely certain that all these participants are going to participate so that we’re not holding the bag,” asked Board member Pat Doyle.

Torrey said the Broadband Committee was “waiting for a viable plan from (Facilities Manager) Sam Bird and (IT Manager) Michelle Spero.” He cautioned that the Town Council would still have to sign off on the plan. The Council needs to weigh in on the issue because it owns some of the properties that would be involved in the new network. Torrey said that OSHEAN estimated the project could take just two months to install if it was approved.

Bill McKernan, the former Chair of the Broadband Committee (he resigned because he moves to Florida for the winter), said that even if this small broadband network is created, that did not mean the Broadband Committee was not still fully committed to wiring the entire island to the high speed fiber optic strands. McKernan said the plan to connect the three anchor facilities would help get the project “up and running and to see what it can do.”

The Board approved a motion to expend $45,000 of its own funds to either participate in the plan to connect the anchor facilities or to pay for the T-1 lines that would provide adequate service until at least the start of the next summer season. The Board also approved entering into a contract with Athena Health Care.