By Matthew Taylor

Aero Methow Rescue Service recently was awarded a $100,000 grant by the federal Health Resources and Services Administration.

The Rural Health Network Development Planning Grant will enable Aero Methow to build a more efficient and coordinated network with other health care providers in the Methow Valley and beyond.

The goal of the grant is to “improve communication and networking to optimize patient care,” said Tim Chuck, Aero Methow’s grant deputy. The plan, which will engage 28 agencies, providers and other stakeholders, involves 10 general strategic tasks. These include a needs assessment, the development of a communication process, outreach to stakeholders, coordination of patient care, training, network administration, an assessment of performance, and plans to optimize data sharing, staffing integration, and reimbursement.

Aero Methow has long been the health care “entry point for people who have nowhere else to go,” said Chuck. Patients are often sent to Aero Methow as a default, even when the organization’s services don’t apply to the situation.

Not only has this created an unnecessary strain on Aero Methow’s resources, it has also prevented patients from receiving the best care available for their individual situations. The ultimate goal of the grant is to create a system in which a patient can find the best care option.

Aero Methow has already been attempting to do this, just “without support,” said Chuck, referencing an ongoing attempt to improve communication and efficiency in valley health care.

However, the grant “has forced us to do critical thinking and get details on paper,” he said. Not only does the organization hope to build a network specifically designed to face the varied challenges of the Methow Valley service area, it also hopes to provide a model for networking that will be applicable for other rural communities across the United States. “It will be a very progressive, contemporary and state-of-the-art plan,” said Cindy Button, director of Aero Methow.

While Aero Methow will be doing the heavy lifting, the plan will require assistance from and coordination with stakeholders across Okanogan County. “We should be pooling our resources, not duplicating,” said Chuck, “Integration will be key.”

The project will be developed in 2017 and implemented by the summer of 2018.