August 2016 Feature Story: FDRHPO

A ‘mission-focused’ agency

Denise Young is the executive director for Fort Drum Regional Health Planning Organization. The agency, which was formed in 2005 and today employs a staff of 36 full- and part-time people, works to improve the health of the region’s residents through a variety of initiatives. Photo by Amanda Morrison, NNY Business.

Denise Young is the executive director for Fort Drum Regional Health Planning Organization. The agency, which was formed in 2005 and today employs a staff of 36 full- and part-time people, works to improve the health of the region’s residents through a variety of initiatives. Photo by Amanda Morrison, NNY Business.

FDRHPO works to fill gaps in region’s health care

By Norah Machia, NNY Business

The growth of telemedicine is just one of several goals that the Fort Drum Regional Health Planning Organization continues to accomplish on its mission to improve the health of north country residents.

The organization was initially established in 2005 to bring Fort Drum medical command officials together with regional health care providers and further plan for the population growth resulting from an additional Third Brigade being stationed at the military post.

The organization started to research the existing health care delivery system in the region to determine gaps in care. This involved identifying the strengths and weaknesses of the health care systems that serve the local military and civilian populations, and determining the best approach to improve and enhance integration of the two systems.

It was first incorporated in 2005 with just a board of directors.

Today, the agency has 36 full- and part-time staff and a $4.6 million budget from state and federal grants, and service fee income from numerous government agencies.

“We’re very mission-focused,” said Denise K. Young, executive director. “We don’t provide direct services, but we work to fill the gaps for our partners in health care.”

Some of those gaps include the need for more primary care and behavioral health services, a greater focus on prevention of chronic illness, the importance of recruiting more people into the health care workforce, implementation of electronic medical records and connecting patients with specialists via telemedicine services.

Delivery System Reform Incentive Payment

New York State launched the Delivery System Reform Incentive Program last year and the FDRHPO was already in a position to help the region obtain funding to assist hospitals, clinics and private practices become more patient-centered in their operations.

“We were in a position to help bring in more resources to the region,” said Mrs. Young. “There was a lot of coordination, but we already had the partners in place.”

The DSRIP is a five-year program during which time nearly $8 billion in grant funding will be distributed statewide to improve health care by focusing on areas such as increased access to services, including both primary and specialized care, continuity of patient care, recognition of behavioral health issues and management of chronic illness.

The state funds are being distributed to groups of health care providers, public health agencies, and others working together to meet the program’s health care goals, with a particular focus on Medicaid patients, said Mrs. Young.

Some of the specific DSRIP funding milestones are to reduce the rates of chronic diseases, such as Type 2 diabetes, and also prevent unnecessary hospital visits by 25 percent in five years.

To accomplish these and other goals of the program, the North Country Initiative, a clinically integrated network of health care providers, was established with assistance from the FDRHPO.

“We’re staffing and supporting the North Country Initiative,” Mrs. Young explained. “This is a large undertaking and will be hugely beneficial to the region.”

Those who are working to improve health care delivery in the region by meeting the DSRIP key milestones are being led by Samaritan Medical Center, and include Carthage Area Hospital; River Hospital, Alexandria Bay; Clifton-Fine, Star Lake: Claxton-Hepburn Medical Center, Ogdensburg; and Massena Memorial Hospital. There are hundreds of other private practices, clinics, schools and other health care providers participating as well who are working to improve the patient experience.

North Country Health Compass

The FDRHPO offers the most updated data base for health care providers in the north country, and others as well, including public health agencies, nonprofit organizations and school districts, Mrs. Young said.

The agency developed the North Country Health Compass in 2013 after receiving a $225,000 grant from the state Department of Health’s Office of Rural Health. The online tool is a customized Web-based quality-of-life and environmental information system that includes data from the agency’s regional community health assessment, which is conducted every three years.

“We put together strong data analytics,” Mrs. Young said. “We help all hospitals in the three counties conduct their community health needs assessment and planning, and we provide them with data to build a three-year plan to improve community health.”

The FDRHPO is completing its next community health needs assessment, which is conducted every three years, Mrs. Young said.

“Now we’re redoing it” to continue to provide the most up-to-date information, she said.

The North Country Compass is a customized website, so those visiting it are able to research particular incidences of diseases and medical conditions in specific areas of the region.

Each indicator contains detailed information and statistics, such as rates of chronic diseases, suicide and binge drinking, she said

“The North Country Health Compass is a huge resource and tool for the region,” Mrs. Young said. “We’re always in the process of updating the information.”

Building the health care workforce

The FDRHPO has been encouraging young people for several years to consider entering the health care field by exposing them to possible careers through programs such as Medical Academy of Science and Health, or MASH.

The three-day camps give high school students an opportunity to explore careers in the health care field through experiences such as tours and demonstrations in hospitals departments, including the operating room, laboratory and emergency departments.

The MASH Camps are held at several hospitals throughout the region, and show young people there are a large variety of “good paying, sustainable and rewarding jobs” in the health care field, Mrs. Young said.

The organization has also partnered with Jefferson Community College to establish continuing medical education partnerships with facilities such as Upstate University Hospital for nurse practitioner training and Keuka College for bachelor’s degree programs in social work.

“More than 20 people have gone into the nurse practitioner program through Upstate,” Mrs. Young said. “We’re also seeing a large increase in people going on to pursue their master’s in social work, which will help meet the shortage of behavioral health providers.”

“We are continuing to grow those graduate medical education programs,” she added.

The agency has also helped to establish a care coordinator training program for health care providers who monitor patients with chronic illness after discharge from the hospital. The FDRHPO worked with both Jefferson Community College and SUNY Canton to establish the North Country Care Coordination Certificate Training Program.

Also recognizing the expanding field of health technology, the FDRHPO helped to establish a certificate training program to help meet the demand for more people to enter that field, with a focus on issues such as electronic medical records systems.

Stephen Jennings, Public Health Planner, Jefferson County Public Health, called the FDRHPO “a convener of the entire regional health system.”

“It was needed because the health care system was changing so drastically in a short period of time” with the increase of troops at Fort Drum, he said.

As grant funding became increasingly competitive at both the state and federal levels, “we were in a much better position to demonstrate collaboration and partnerships” because of the FDRHPO, Mr. Jennings said.

The north country “has been in a position to go after funding because of FDRHPO and all the data they have generated, along with the cooperative working relationship among its members, hospitals, health care agencies and other organizations,” he added.

Mr. Jennings also serves as the co-chairman of the North Country Health Compass partnership, a group of providers who meet monthly to collaborate and plan for health care needs based on the data collected through the FDRHPO.

Providers from Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence counties belong to the partnership and have been focusing on three areas: chronic disease prevention, maternal and child health, and mental health issues.

Data from the North Country Health Compass and other resources was used to help apply for the state funding to establish a recovery center in Jefferson County, he said. Pivot, formerly the Alcohol and Substance Abuse Council of Jefferson County, was awarded $1.75 million through the state’s Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services to establish a “recovery community and outreach center” in the city to help address, among other issues, the region’s heroin on opioid epidemic.

Health care providers have also been focusing on suicide prevention efforts, Mr. Jennings said. Although the number of suicides in the north country appear to be low, the actual rate is high based on the population, he said.

Other initiatives by the partnership have included working on increasing colorectal cancer screening, and access to Type 2 diabetes prevention programs in the three counties.

A children’s oral health pilot program was also launched in Jefferson County through a “toothbrush curriculum” created for pre-kindergarten students. There has also been an effort to train primary care doctors to incorporate a one-minute fluoride treatment in the well-child visits, and talk with families about the importance of regular dental care.

Norah Machia is a freelance writer who lives in Watertown. She is a 20-year veteran journalist and former Watertown Daily Times reporter. Contact her at