MaineHealth plans to use a five-year, $12.8 million Centers of Biomedical Research Excellence, or COBRE, grant from the National Institutes of Health to study ways to reduce the disparity in health care quality between urban and rural areas of the state.

The state’s largest health care system said the funding will be used by the Maine Medical Center Research Institute to support clinical research aimed at reducing rural health disparities in acute care settings such as emergency rooms.

“This grant will not only help establish the infrastructure necessary to better serve rural communities, it will support MaineHealth engagement with community members to understand their needs, and how best to focus future research,” said Dr. Doug Sawyer, chief academic officer of Maine Medical Center and MaineHealth. “When research works hand in glove with community needs and patient care, we impact health.”

The funds will be used to develop a statewide research and care network in Maine that addresses “barriers associated with limited resources, expertise and access in rural areas and will begin with the support of four clinical studies,” according to MaineHealth.

One study will examine whether MaineHealth can improve rural patient outcomes after cardiac arrest by creating a standard best practice protocol for care, it said. Another will study whether giving patients the antibiotic ceftriaxone after cardiac arrest will help improve outcomes after resuscitation.

A third study will look into how the types of white blood cells patients have in their bloodstream after cardiac arrest may impact their recovery. Finally, MaineHealth will continue its telemedicine research that supports rural hospitals in the rapid recognition of newborns who need treatment with therapeutic hypothermia to protect the brain.

The study also will examine whether telemedicine is an effective way of gaining the consent of the parents of those newborns for research and clinical care, according to MaineHealth.

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