The University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences’ Center for Rural Health and Center for Distance Health will provide health education for providers in the Delta and prescription assistance for Delta residents through a three-year $1.38 million federal grant to the Greater Delta Alliance for Health.

The grant is from the federal Health Resources and Services Administration through its Delta States Network Development Grant program. The Greater Delta Alliance for Health, a partnership of eight small, independently owned rural hospitals in southeast Arkansas, will contract with UAMS to provide the services, which will include an annual summit on chronic disease for health care providers.

UAMS will provide continuing education classes for physicians and nurses in live sessions and via real-time video connections through the statewide Arkansas e-Link telehealth network. Arkansas e-Link, led by UAMS, is using high-speed data transmission lines to connect 454 community institutions in Arkansas for videoconferencing. Classes will begin in the late fall and early 2014.

The first year’s summit and classes will focus on best practices for diabetes care, the second year on cardiovascular disease and the third year on obesity.

“The Greater Delta Alliance for Health recognizes that to address the disparities so prominent throughout the Delta, our health care providers must know how to best treat their patients, communicate with their patients, acknowledge the barriers their patients face, and be familiar with resources available to help their patients. Only then can there be a recognizable improvement in the statistical outcomes that are prominent in the regions,” said Mellie Bridewell, Greater Delta Alliance for Health executive director.

Nineteen south Arkansas counties in the Delta will benefit from the initiatives. They are Ashley, Arkansas, Bradley, Calhoun, Cleveland, Chicot, Dallas, Desha, Drew, Grant, Jefferson, Lee, Lincoln, Lonoke, Monroe, Phillips, Ouachita, St. Francis, and Union counties.  More than one health care facility in each of the counties will provide the classes through e-Link.

The HRSA grant will expand the alliance’s Delta Medicine Assistance Program, which helps people who have difficulty obtaining prescription medications due to fixed incomes, lack of insurance or other circumstances that limit their ability to fully comply with their physician’s direction to treat chronic health conditions. In the past three years, the program has served 4,472 patients, saving them about $3.75 million.

The annual chronic disease summit for Arkansas Delta health care providers and partners will develop a health care provider network to address chronic disease in the Delta and provide information about local resources to assist their patients.

“The Greater Delta Alliance for Health is a perfect example of how collaboration should work and can be most effective,” said Tim Hill, director of the UAMS Center for Rural Health. “The overriding commitment they share is to improve the health and health care for their communities, and funding such as the HRSA Delta States Grant allows the alliance to continue this challenging work. The UAMS Center for Rural Health is a proud and supportive partner of the alliance.”