BIDDEFORD — The University of New England’s Geriatrics Workforce Enhancement Program (GWEP), known as AgingME, has been awarded a $90,625 grant through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act to increase access to telehealth for older adults in Maine through a project titled TeleHealthy, according to a university press release.

“TeleHealthy was developed by UNE’s AgIngME team to help older adults more easily participate in telemedicine visits during the pandemic,” explains Susan Wehry, M.D., director of GWEP AgingME and chief of geriatrics at UNE’s College of Osteopathic Medicine. The COM is located on the Biddeford campus. “We are grateful the CARES Act made funds available to both engage older adults and to help ensure today’s student and practicing health professionals know how to use telehealth tools effectively.”

As part of the TeleHealthy program, third- and fourth-year osteopathic medical students and family medicine practitioners involved in health profession instruction will be trained to provide telehealth-enabled services to older adults.

Primary care practices have reduced the availability of non-urgent — but key — services for older adults, as a result of the pandemic, according to the release. Further complicating the care of older adults in rural parts of Maine, many areas lack the adequate broadband support for video conferencing and other digital technologies used in telehealth initiatives.

“Telehealth services are particularly important during the pandemic, allowing physicians to treat patients while they are safely in their own homes,” said Senator Susan Collins, R-Maine. “As the chairman of the Aging Committee, I welcome this important investment, which will allow the University of New England to expand access to telehealth technology to help ensure seniors continue to receive quality health care.”

Through the grant, UNE, in collaboration with the Machias-based National Digital Equity Center and AgingME’s statewide partners, the University of Maine, MaineHealth and Northern Light Health systems, and Full Circle Health, will target two critical services for older adults disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic: the annual wellness visit and advanced care planning. By targeting these two services for telemedicine visits, effort will also reinforce its practices’ ongoing development of an age-friendly health system, accordign to the release.

“In these uncertain times, telehealth is one of the best ways to safely receive care – particularly for seniors and those who are especially at-risk,” said Senator Angus King (I) Maine. “I am thrilled that this funding will help UNE work with health centers across the state and allow them to expand virtual services for older Maine people. Now more than ever, it is vital that our seniors are able to receive their annual and routine preventive care, as well as being able to bring issues to their health care provider’s attention before the problems become too serious.”

The University of New England’s GWEP AgingME, is well-positioned to address these needs for the present and in the future, the release states. UNE is home to Maine’s only medical school, the College of Osteopathic Medicine, as well as UNE’s College of Dental Medicine, a new Center for Digital Health Technologies, and the Westbrook College of Health Professions, which educates dental hygienists, nurses, nurse anesthetists, physician assistants, pharmacists, social workers, and physical and occupational therapists.

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