Friday, August 20, 2010

Week In Review

State Capitol Week in Review

LITTLE ROCK – Thanks to what is being called the largest federal grant ever received by an institution in Arkansas, numerous communities, hospitals and colleges will get connected with broadband access in the next few years.

The grant of $102 million was awarded to the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. It will pay for high speed, interactive links between the teaching hospital in Little Rock and all 75 counties in Arkansas, as well as links among local agencies.

The links will join UAMS with 81 hospitals. The grant will pay for broadband improvements or new fiber optic connections in 135 Arkansas communities, eight public libraries and all human development centers, community health centers, mental health centers and home health agencies. The network will be vital in building the statewide trauma system approved last year by the legislature.

Also, all 22 state two-year colleges will gain much improved broadband access. State supported four-year universities already are connected.

A tremendous benefit of the new network is its potential for expansion into thousands of schools, community centers, ambulance operators, health clinics, nursing homes, libraries, police and fire departments and local emergency response agencies.

UAMS and its partners will provide matching funds of about $26 million. Those partners include the state's two-year colleges, the state Health Department, the state Human Services Department, the Arkansas Hospital Association, Baptist Health, the Community Health Centers of Arkansas and the State Library.

The chairman of the UAMS Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology was credited with leading the effort of obtaining the grant. He has introduced many innovations in telemedicine at UAMS, and during a demonstration he displayed ultra sound images of babies from outlying regions of the state. While displaying the images he talked to physicians who were hundreds of miles from UAMS.

In the parts of Arkansas where physicians rely on Internet with a dial-up connection, it can take hours to transmit images like ultrasounds and X-rays to UAMS for consultations. Thanks to the new broadband connections the process will take seconds. Clearly, the new network's potential for saving lives is enormous.

The benefits will come not just in allowing faster and better links to UAMS. It will improve communications among local medical clinics and first responders after a traumatic accident or medical emergency.

A spokesman for two-year colleges said the new network will greatly improve their ability to schedule video-conferences and distance learning classes. An added benefit will be to free up the colleges' current Internet capacity for students and faculty research. The new network will upgrade existing systems that now have a capacity of only 6 MBs per second and increase their speeds to 100 MBs per second.

Another benefit for UAMS will be to improve its research capabilities, which will in turn enhance the teaching hospital's ability to get additional grants.

The network will provide broadband in mountainous, isolated and sparsely populated areas where private communications companies are unlikely to install cable because it would not be profitable. Besides the medical and educational benefits that broadband access brings to a rural community, there are also economic benefits.

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