Statewide Center for Telehealth Established

Former DHCS director to lead California Center for Connected Health

The California HealthCare Foundation (CHCF) announced today the establishment of the California Center for Connected Health (CCCH), a strategy and planning body to lead and coordinate telehealth adoption throughout the state. The Sacramento-based organization will be led by Sandra Shewry, former director of the California Department of Health Care Services, who will become president and CEO, effective January 1, 2009.

Telehealth connects patients in remote or underserved areas of the state with medical providers and educators, overcoming barriers of time and distance and delivering health services and education in places that lack those resources. CHCF’s support for telehealth is part of its broader mission to promote innovations in health care that can deliver affordable, high-quality care to more Californians. A recent influx of funds into the state for telehealth initiatives created the need for an organization to coordinate efforts.

Millions of dollars in new federal and state funds are available to support an expansion of California’s telehealth infrastructure, including approximately a $30-million investment in broadband and connectivity through a pilot program with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) — the California Telehealth Network (CTN) — and $200 million in Prop 1D infrastructure financing to expand telehealth and medical education through the University of California. The Prop 1D funding, approved by California voters in 2006, includes $10 million for a “community investment fund” to help equip community health care sites that partner with the University of California enhance access to medical services through telehealth.

“Recent investments by federal and state government give California an unprecedented opportunity to expand telehealth infrastructure statewide and make meaningful improvements in access to care,” said Mark D. Smith, M.D., M.B.A., president and CEO of CHCF. “Sandra Shewry, with her deep understanding of California’s health care system and its challenges, is uniquely qualified to lead this exciting effort.”

While the FCC and Prop 1D grant funds will expand the telehealth infrastructure, CCCH will be the coordinating body that fosters the vision for its future in California and links together the many groups and individuals necessary to make telehealth a reality.

The California Center for Connected Health will connect stakeholders, including state agencies, provider groups, and public and private sector organizations, to set the strategy and vision for a sustainable telehealth model in California. “Working together, we can realize telehealth’s potential to improve access and quality for underserved populations,” said Shewry.

Millions Face Limited Access to Care

For many Californians in remote regions and underserved urban areas, getting access to affordable, quality health care is a major problem. Today, 51 out of 58 California counties face a shortage of medical professionals. Telehealth can help address the shortage of primary care physicians and specialists by optimizing the use of professionals that currently exist.

The California Center for Connected Health will:

  • Promote a shared vision for telehealth adoption and integration in the health care delivery system;
  • Work to ensure that California is a national model of telehealth integration;
  • Identify and promote practice patterns, policies, regulations, and statutory changes that will maximize the ability of telehealth to improve health outcomes and care delivery; and
  • Manage a specialty care pilot project for UC campuses and community-based clinics to develop a sustainable model for telehealth services.

Experienced Leadership Team

In addition to Shewry, CCCH’s leadership team will include Thomas S. Nesbitt, M.D., M.P.H., executive associate dean for clinical and administrative affairs at the University of California Davis and a professor in the department of family and community medicine. Nesbitt is the founding director of the Center for Health and Technology, which oversees UC Davis’s telemedicine, distance learning, and rural health outreach programs. He joins the CCCH part-time as executive director of telehealth services.

“Numerous pilot programs have demonstrated the effectiveness of telehealth in improving health care access and quality,” said Dr. Nesbitt. “CCCH’s formation is an opportunity to make California a model for integrating telehealth into the state’s health care system.”

The University of California system has played a key role in advancing telehealth and will work closely with CCCH going forward. “The University of California will continue to play an active role in advancing telehealth in California,” said Dr. Jack Stobo, senior vice president for health sciences and services for the UC system. “We look forward to working with CCCH and other stakeholders to expand the role of telehealth in ways that will improve access to high-quality care.”

Investing in the Future

The California HealthCare Foundation is providing $5.5 million in initial financing to support CCCH operations and the launch of a specialty access project. The California Endowment has been a major supporter of telehealth and telemedicine expansion in California and is actively pursuing a significant partnership grant to help launch this new effort. The California Emerging Technologies Fund is supporting the effort through a commitment of $3.6 million for the development of the CTN. Additional funding is expected from other public and private organizations.

CCCH will operate as a program of the Oakland-based Public Health Institute (PHI) until it is incorporated as an independent California nonprofit and obtains tax-exempt status as a charitable 501(c)(3) organization.

Get more information about the California Center for Connected Health, including leadership bios, a list of frequently asked questions, and a video about telehealth, through the link below.

Contact Information:

About the California Health Care Foundation

The California Health Care Foundation is dedicated to advancing meaningful, measurable improvements in the way the health care delivery system provides care to the people of California, particularly those with low incomes and those whose needs are not well served by the status quo. We work to ensure that people have access to the care they need, when they need it, at a price they can afford.