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July 11, 2016

UVA Receives Federal Grant to Fight Southwest Virginia Opioid Epidemic

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A federal grant to the University of Virginia Health System will help battle the opioid epidemic in Southwest Virginia by expanding access to specialized care through telehealth.

The $153,082 U.S. Department of Agriculture grant will use secure videoconferencing to connect UVA specialists in a variety of areas – including mental health – with patients at 11 health centers throughout Southwest Virginia:

  • Allcare for Seniors – Cedar Bluff
  • Bassett Family Practice – Bassett
  • Bath Community Hospital – Hot Springs
  • The Health Wagon – Clintwood and Wise
  • Mountain Empire Older Citizens – Big Stone Gap
  • Southwest Virginia Community Health Systems – Meadowview, Saltville and Tazewell
  • Stone Mountain Health Services – Haysi and Konnarock

In addition, the Karen S. Rheuban Center for Telehealth at UVA will partner with The Health Wagon and their two mobile health units to provide in-person care and access to UVA specialists via telehealth in six Southwest Virginia counties.

“We’re pleased to receive this grant, which will help more patients throughout Southwest Virginia get the care they need close to home through access to an array of specialists from UVA,” Rheuban said.

Richard Merkel, MD, PhD, who heads UVA’s telepsychiatry team, said one benefit of the grant will be improving the quality of the secure videoconferencing equipment, leading to better connections between patients and UVA psychiatrists.

“In medicine, the effectiveness of the treatment is in part dependent on the quality of the relationship between the doctor and the patient. This is even more true in psychiatry and behavioral health,” Merkel said. “When caring for patients via telemedicine, this makes the effort to help especially sensitive to the quality of the technology.”

Founded in 1994, UVA’s telehealth center has facilitated more than 50,000 patient encounters in more than 40 specialties – such as psychiatry and diabetes education – at more than 150 sites throughout Virginia. The center has helped save patients an estimated 16.1 million miles of travel to get the care they need.

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