Making the North Country a Healthier Community

Fort Drum Regional Health Planning Organization, North Country Initiative Celebrate Successes in 2016

When most north country residents hear about the Fort Drum Regional Health Planning Organization, they naturally think about soldiers, military families or the Army base here in Jefferson County.

We’re proud of this association. FDRHPO was founded more than a decade ago to connect Fort Drum soldiers and families with quality health care in the north country, and we are still dedicated to this mission as we enter 2017.

However, even though the words “Fort Drum” begin our agency’s name, FDRHPO works to improve health care for all individuals living in Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence counties – including civilians and soldiers alike. Located just off Public Square, at 120 Washington St., FDRHPO collaborates with several hospitals, primary care offices and a variety of community-based organizations in the tri-county region to identify and fill gaps in our regional health care system.

Along with our partner agency, the North Country Initiative (NCI), we do much of our work “behind the scenes” – surveying residents to understand local needs, strategizing with health care partners to find solutions and securing necessary resources to help make those solutions a reality.

Together, FDRHPO and NCI are engaged in projects that span the health care spectrum: some projects help prevent chronic diseases, some strengthen our region’s health care workforce, and others help patients with a mental illness get the care they need in our community.

Whatever we are involved in, we’re thinking about the future. Our success is not always measured day-to-day, but rather it is shown as we begin to see the health of the north country improve from generation to generation.

With that being said, FDRHPO and NCI are pleased to share some of the accomplishments we had a hand in achieving in 2016, recognizing that behind each of these milestones was a dedicated community effort.

Diabetes Prevention & Management

Our region made great strides in 2016 to prevent diabetes and help those living with diabetes manage their condition.

About four years ago, as a result of our comprehensive Community Health Survey and Assessment, we identified diabetes as a health concern for our region and we have since been committed under the state’s Delivery System Reform Payment (DSRIP) program to reducing our region’s diabetes rate – which currently hovers around 10 percent.

Across the tri-county, we currently have five locations offering the nationally recognized Diabetes Prevention Program and 11 locations that offer nationally recognized self-management programs for diabetes and other chronic diseases.

Throughout 2016, participation in local Diabetes Prevention Programs increased 12 percent, and that rate is expected to continue growing into 2017.

This increase in participation will further benefit the community by allowing programs to be offered more frequently and in more locations, which will ultimately drive drown our region’s diabetes rate.

Also in 2016, FDRHPO and NCI collaborated with partners to launch a website dedicated to promoting diabetes prevention and management. It can be seen at

Expanded Use of Telemedicine

This past year was also a great year for our region’s telemedicine program.

Telemedicine – or telehealth – technology allows a rural patient to visit his or her local hospital, health center, private practice or clinic and speak with a medical specialist elsewhere in the region or state via a secure videoconference. It is particularly helpful here in the north country, where many individuals live hours away from the specialist they need or are unable to travel altogether.

There are currently more than 90 hospitals, provider offices and other health care professionals engaged in telemedicine initiatives across Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence counties, offering services such as telepsychiatry, telestroke and teleneurology. In 2016 alone, more than 1,300 telemedicine appointments were recorded across this region, representing an increase of about 1,000 appointments over the previous year.

“Patients are gaining access to the care they need, when they need it, and where it is most convenient for them,” said David C. Johnson, FDRHPO’s Telemedicine Program Coordinator. “This is only the beginning of telemedicine’s success in our region; it is becoming and will be an essential part of the standard way to deliver care.”

More information about telemedicine in the north country can be found at

A Bolstered Workforce

Whether it’s in local middle or high schools, at career fairs or through partnerships with colleges, vocational schools or adult education programs, FDRHPO and NCI work across the community to ensure our region’s health care workforce is strong.

Initiatives like our Medical Academy of Science and Health (MASH) Camp for 8-12th graders, job skills trainings, job shadow program and other regional recruitment and retention efforts help foster a robust pipeline of medical professionals to our area.

Since 2015, by leveraging state funding, we have allocated about $3 million to our partners to recruit eight new primary care physicians; six family nurse practitioners; two psychiatric nurse practitioners; five physician assistants; two psychologists; two psychiatrists and two dentists. We’ve also made funds available for the growth and development of four certified diabetes educators, five licensed clinical social workers and a licensed clinical social worker with a psychotherapy “R” privilege.

We will continue building on these strategic programs and initiatives in 2017 to ensure a vibrant supply of health care professionals for our region into the future.

Improved Connectivity

In August, our region’s online Health Information Exchange expanded to include the electronic medical records of Fort Drum soldiers and their families. This unique partnership between a military base and its surrounding community is one of just three nationwide to be tested and approved by the U.S. Department of Defense.

Not only will this integration allow active-duty soldiers, veterans and their family members to receive seamless care throughout the north country and New York State, but it will prevent duplicate medical procedures and testing – saving time and money.

Just like with all civilian patients, community providers can now access a detailed history of care that has been rendered to their military patients, along with any relevant medical images, such as MRIs, X-rays, mammograms or CT scans.

“It is our core mission to integrate our community health system with Fort Drum, strengthening both systems for the betterment of the veterans, soldiers and their families that are a key part of our community,” said Corey M. Zeigler, FDRHPO’s chief information officer. “We are very proud to provide high-quality, integrated care to our nation’s finest.”

Many community-based partners are also connecting to the Health Information Exchange, ensuring that patients receive seamless continuity of care no matter where they receive services in the community.

Looking to the Future

These are just a few examples of how our work – and the work of our partners – benefits the north country community and each individual who is a part of it.

FDRHPO and NCI have a proven track record of embracing transformation. We are solely committed to evaluating, planning and strengthening the health care system for patients and providers across our region.

It is our job to make the north country a healthier community, and we are determined to do so – even if it means working ourselves out of a job!

Here’s to a healthy 2016 and a healthier 2017.