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Nuvance proposes telehealth site, now that primary care is closed

KENT — Responding to the recent closure of Kent Primary Care, Nuvance Health is proposing an alternative telehealth system for the town, described for the Board of Selectmen at their regular meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 14. The meeting was conducted on Zoom, attracting 18 viewers.

Representing the nonprofit Nuvance Health system (which includes Sharon Hospital) was Assistant Vice President Andrea Rynn.  

Nuvance has selected Kent to implement a pilot model of telemedicine, hoping to install the program into an office at the town’s Senior Center, where it would conveniently serve the senior population, although it would be open to everyone.

When Kent Primary Care was open, only 33% of its patients were from Kent. The rest came from surrounding towns, Rynn reported.

As presently envisioned in the pilot, the town of Kent would need to provide secure internet access and the office space. 

Nuvance would furnish computer equipment and provide a staff member to assist users with operating the computer in addition to keeping the office clean and sanitized.

“We’re not setting up a medical office,” Rynn said. “We are setting up an internet location where patients can use a computer for telehealth consultations. This would be a common access point,” she explained.

The telemedicine model is intended to complement in-person care, Rynn said.

If the patient needs a specialist, that choice of specialist remains entirely with the patient, she said. Freedom of choice remains with the patient throughout the model, regardless of that patient’s relationship with any health insurance carrier, whether Nuvance or any other.

“If the pilot is successful, it can be expanded to other specialties or to other entities,” Rynn said. “We are pleased to be offering this pilot,” she said, adding that Nuvance sees it as a restart of its relationship with Kent residents.

First Selectman Jean Speck said the town would need to check with the Senior Center administrators to determine use of the facility, noting that there is currently no internet service at that location.

Selectman Chris Garrity asked why the town is involved at all in this proposal, beyond an obligation to safeguard the general health and well-being of residents.

“In the future, if the pilot is successful, then many towns may follow,” Rynn said. “You’re not doing this for Nuvance; you’re doing this for the residents of Kent.”

The pilot would continue for six to nine months.

Selectman Ed Matson asked whether an outreach program might better serve the client if someone brought a telehealth computer to the patient’s home to take advantage of the service.

Rynn said that would be a different model from what is being proposed, but the future could hold other models.

“There is no primary care in town now. This model presents people with an option they don’t presently have,” Rynn said.

Speck suggested that it might be a good idea to try the model, and perhaps there will be no interest. But, she said, townspeople are asking for solutions.

The general consensus was to encourage Rynn to return with a more detailed proposal to be considered by the selectmen.

“Let’s not lose ground,” Rynn said. “Let’s make it easy to get simple, basic health care.”

Garrity said that he will want to understand the model to determine that the town would be helping the maximum number of people.

“Why does the town need to be involved,” Garrity asked again.

“We don’t,” Speck replied. “It has grown out of conversations with community members.”

Matson asked who would pay the utilities. Rynn replied that such costs could be part of the agreement to implement the pilot program.

At the next selectmen’s meeting, Nuvance will provide a more formal proposal, Rynn said, and she will develop a communications plan outlining how the program could be presented to the community.

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