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Learn More About Adirondack Health Institute

Have you heard of Adirondack Health Institute? This nonprofit works behind the scenes of the healthcare industry to ensure adequate coverage for all, which can be challenging in a rural area like the Adirondacks.

We sat down with the AHI staff to find out more about healthcare and the Adirondacks, and how they keep things moving forward in our region.

team of people posing together

1) What would you love to be known for?

Our organization’s mission statement, “To lead and work collaboratively with community partners on innovative initiatives that advance quality, improve access and affordability, and transform health care delivery in the Adirondack region,” and vision statement, “To ensure every individual in our region reaches their full potential and lives a healthy life,” really say it all in terms of our promise to the community and intended legacy.

2) What is your most popular service or program?

We offer numerous programs and services, all of which contribute in different, positive ways to the region. Perhaps the most impactful of our initiatives is our Enrollment Assistance Services and Education (EASE) program.

Our team of Enrollment Specialists provides free assistance to help individuals, families and small business owners enroll in health insurance coverage through the NY State of Health Marketplace.

We’re extremely proud and humbled to say that since the program’s inception in 2013, we have helped more than 22,000 people in seven counties, many of whom had never previously had coverage, get much-needed, affordable health insurance.

3) It looks like communication about this ever-changing industry is vital in what you do. How do you stay on top of the changes and get information to the right people?

It’s true that health care is ever-changing and evolving at a rapid pace. The future of health care is often hard to predict. Just look at how much has changed in the recent past and what’s happening right now. Presently, health care delivery systems, such as Medicaid, are being fundamentally restructured through the Delivery System Reform Incentive Payment (DSRIP) Program, for which AHI is the lead entity representing one of 25 Performing Provider Systems in New York State. One of the primary goals of the initiative is to reduce avoidable hospital use by 25 percent over five years and to date we have been very successful in meeting that goal.

Reimbursement models are transitioning from an antiquated fee-for-service to a more sensible pay-for-performance model that will hold providers accountable for providing quality, not quantity, care and services.

Individuals are using technology more and more to access the health care system via such avenues as telehealth and smart phones. It’s incumbent upon our organization and our myriad of partners to stay nimble and be prepared for any changes that will come down the pike, regardless of its predictability.

Gone are the days of working in silos to provide needed community services. Stakeholders working together and communicating - not only with each other, but with the community members we serve - is a vital part of the equation.

4) You work with over 125 different organizations - what do these partnerships consist of, or what is it you provide for these organizations?

It’s clear that nothing will change in health care delivery unless everyone has a seat the table. We partner with such entities as hospitals, health systems, care providers, community-based organizations and others.

The exciting news is that we’re expanding the collaboration to include partners that perhaps haven’t been part of the discussion. For instance, it’s been proven that building and maintaining healthy communities is much more than simply providing care to the sick. Factors such as adequate housing, access to healthy foods, proper education, access to transportation, pathways out of poverty, and many other social determinants of health, also play key roles in population health efforts.

So, we’ve brought into the mix educators, transportation councils, housing authorities, and others. And most importantly, we’ve connected with those who know best health care opportunities and challenges - community members who receive the actual services.

We’re proud of the fact that AHI has been able to pull together such large and fully-inclusive groups that perhaps had never sat in a room together, to collectively address challenges and ultimately improve population health.

5) What are some of the bigger challenges you face in ensuring adequate healthcare in rural areas?

Our vast, rural geographic area - AHI’s services area covers more than 11,000 square miles in nine counties (Clinton, Essex, Franklin, Fulton, Hamilton, Saratoga, St. Lawrence, Warren, and Washington) - certainly presents unique challenges not faced in more urban settings.

Many of our programs, including the Adirondack Rural Health Network (ARHN), Population Health Improvement Program (PHIP), and Telemedicine/Telehealth program, are particularly focused on improving health in our rural communities.

ARHN, AHI’s longest-running program, provides a forum for public health leaders, community health centers, hospitals, behavioral health organizations, emergency medical services, and other community-based organizations to assess regional population health needs and develop collaborative responses to priorities unique to rural settings. We do this by informing on planning assessment, providing training to further the New York State Prevention Agenda and Delivery System Reform Incentive Payment (DSRIP) Program, and offer resources that support the development of the rural regional health care system.

PHIP works with communities throughout the region to identify, share, and help implement best practices and strategies to promote rural population health and reduce health disparities. One of our more successful initiatives is the “It’s Time to Clear the Air in the North Country” campaign, a task force of more than 30 organizations charged with educating stakeholders about the inordinately-high smoking rates in the north country. The task force has been significantly involved in raising awareness and promoting a T-21 initiative to encourage counties in the region to raise the minimum legal sale age of tobacco products from 18 to 21. We’re thrilled to report that in 2018, Essex County became the first in our service region to raise the sale age.

Another challenge to delivering health care in rural regions is barriers to patient travel and provider access. AHI’s Telehealth/Telemedicine program, part of the North Country Telehealth Partnership, serves as a resource, helping partners assess their needs and readiness for implementing telehealth/telemedicine. We do this by connecting organizations to specialists, providing insight on available equipment and vendors, helping navigate the regulatory and reimbursement landscape, organizing educational opportunities, and sharing grant information.

6) What is one of your goals you'd like to achieve in 2019?

Our goals include expanding our reach, both in terms of continuing to identify new partners and growing our programs. Two of our programs that have been growing exponentially recently and will continue to do so in 2019 are our Health Home and Practice Innovation Solutions programs.

The Health Home program is not a place; it is a care management service that connects community and social supports with health care and provides better organization of medical and behavioral health care, ensuring all caregivers involved with a person talk to one another so they can all focus on their client’s needs. The program has been growing by leaps and bounds since launching in 2012. Initially, it covered six counties, partnered with five agencies, and connected 1,205 individuals to needed services in its first year. Today, those numbers have dramatically risen to eight counties, 20 agencies, and 9,140 connected individuals.

Practice Innovation Solutions, one of our newer programs, provides technical assistance and support to physician practices interested in achieving quality recognition. The program also helps practices prepare for major payment changes. The initiative is the first of our AHI programs to reach beyond our nine-county service area, covering 27 counties from Columbia and Greene to the south, Oswego, Madison, and Chenango to the west, the Vermont border to the east, and the Canadian border to the north. To date the program has interfaced with 19 practices and that list grows larger every day.

7) Is there anything else I didn't think to ask you'd like to mention?

Our organization was established in 1987 as the Upper Hudson Primary Care Consortium, eventually becoming Adirondack Health Institute in 2011. For 31 years we have supported and worked with countless organizations in sharing our mission and vision of transforming health care and improving population health in the region. We not only look forward to continuing in that role in 2019, but for many more years to come!

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