State and local health agencies get grants

The nation’s largest private funder of health care research and development will make grants totaling $2 million to state and local public health agencies, helping them participate in regional health information exchanges.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation in Princeton, N.J., will announce the new grant program June 29, senior program officer Stephen Downs said. He said about 20 grants may be made, depending on the amounts applied for. Proposals will be due in September.

The foundation will help the state and local health agencies take part in planning and organizing the regional health information exchanges (RHIOs) now being formed as part of the national push to automate paper-intensive health care recordkeeping, Downs said.

He said the grants also would support identification of specific applications for data sharing and development of business cases for the RHIOs. In addition, the foundation will help the state and local agencies modify their internal IT as needed for exchanging data.

Several public health officials who spoke at conference in a Washington, D.C., in May said state and local agencies were not participating in many of the RHIOs that are emerging nationwide. They blamed funding and technology limitations, among other causes. They said linkages between public and private health organizations are important for both sides.

Earlier this month, the foundation made a $3.68 million grant to the National Library of Medicine, which will pass the money along to four universities to support education and training in public health informatics or IT applications.

At the time, the foundation’s president, Dr. Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, spoke of the importance of information technology in protecting the public’s health, especially during emergencies such as disease outbreaks.

In January, Dr. Michael Painter left his post as health policy adviser to Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist to join the foundation as a senior program officer.

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