In-Brief

Health group stresses importance of FCC’s Lifeline program to P.R./USVI

Luis Belén

The National Health IT Collaborative for the Underserved, in cooperation with HIMSS and HX360, hosted the “Leveraging Health IT to Address Health Disparities: A Leadership Conference”, which brought together national leaders who discussed how to leverage the Federal Communications Commission’s Lifeline program, as part of a disaster preparedness-and-response network.

An estimated 550,000 Puerto Ricans participate in the Lifeline program, which was designed to ensure that low-income households in the United States are able to partake of telecommunications advances and all of the benefits that they bring, including the ability to find and keep jobs, maintain good health, contact emergency services when needed, and preserve strong family and community ties.

The FCC has recently proposed several changes to the programs that have drawn concern from a diverse group of commenters.

“In many ways, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands are a microcosm both of why Lifeline is so urgently needed and how it can work to make life better for its target audience,” said Luis Belén, CEO, National Health IT Collaborative for the Underserved.

“It is vital that the more than 550,000 Puerto Rico participants in the Lifeline program, who consists of our most vulnerable, continue to have access to it,” Belén said.

Working with Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs), the Puerto Rico Primary Care Association Network and other groups, the combination of the Lifeline program and other technology will allow officials to notify and communicate with millions in the program, including sending alerts, tracking patients in “hot spots” and teaming up with federal partners during disasters for communications, he said.

NHIT Collaborative and its partners are working to leverage and link with other federal initiatives such as the ASPR Empower Model and Patient Unified Lookup System for Emergencies, or PULSE to create an immediate ALERT network for the most vulnerable populations.

The National Health IT Collaborative for the Underserved, with guidance from supporting partners, launched the NHIT Care Campaign to restore the health safety net for the people of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands in the wake of Hurricanes Irma and María.

Given the significant damage to Puerto Rico’s national infrastructure, FQHCs and affiliated primary care provider networks have urgent needs for power, medical supplies, communications, and telemedicine support to conduct emergency medical response and coordinate care in coordination with disaster response operations across Puerto Rico.

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