LANSING – The Michigan Health Endowment Fund and several funding partners are coming together to provide $2.95 million to help 61 Michigan providers and safety net organizations ramp up telehealth efforts, which can help patients access critical care without putting themselves, their families, or their doctors at risk.

While many providers have already planned for or begun offering telemedicine options, the pandemic has made this shift more urgent. The grants will help organizations implement new procedures, set up billing services, train or add staff, educate patients about telehealth, treat uninsured patients, and procure HIPAA compliant licenses or equipment.

In addition to the Michigan Health Endowment Fund (Health Fund), funders include the Ethel and James Flinn Foundation, the Metro Health Foundation, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan and the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan Foundation. Grantees include Federally Qualified Health Centers, behavioral health providers, human service agencies, PACE programs, Area Agencies on Aging, and other safety net providers.

“Telehealth is a key strategy for expanding access to care, and we’ve supported this work for a number of years,” said Health Fund Program Director Becky Cienki. “The current urgency underscores this ongoing need, and our goal is for these projects to both spur immediate action and create lasting infrastructure for telehealth.”

Many of the grant recipients are located in the populous areas of Southeast Michigan and metropolitan Grand Rapids, which are also seeing the highest number of COVID-19 cases. For example, the Detroit Area Agency on Aging will use the funding to virtually support older adults impacted by COVID-19, as well as develop a sustainable telehealth program to address physical and mental health needs of older adults.

Outside of population centers, Michigan’s rural communities tend to have fewer providers and gaps in transportation networks. Telehealth can help bridge these gaps, especially as in-person visits and transportation options are restricted. Northwest Michigan Health Services, Inc. will receive funds to provide medical, dental, and behavioral health treatment to residents of all ages across seven counties.

“We share a long-term commitment to advancing telehealth as a best practice in Michigan,” explained Flinn Foundation Executive Director and CEO Andrea Cole. “Now more than ever, remote treatments offer a lifeline for families and children in need of behavioral health services.”

“Increasing access to health care is our core mission at Blue Cross. We are proud to join forces and help equip safety net providers with the resources they will need to provide quality care during this pandemic,” said Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan president and CEO Dan Loepp. “Now, perhaps more than ever before, Michiganders need safe access to their doctors.”