McDowell Technical Community College has received the second largest grant in its history. This grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services will be used for the college’s the rural Health Information Technology (HIT) workforce program. Valerie Dobson, coordinator of the HIT program at McDowell Tech, (left) and Penny Cross, dean of Health Sciences, meet with MTCC President Bryan Wilson about the grant and the upcoming HIT program. (Photo contributed)

McDowell Technical Community College has received the second largest grant in its history which will be used for the rural Health Information Technology (HIT) workforce program,

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Health Resources and Services Administration, announced the awarding of the grant to McDowell Tech. The $300,000 grant is renewable annually for two additional years, subject to satisfactory performance of grant conditions and availability of funding, according to a news release from the college.

Michael Lavender, director of external relations, said Tuesday the goal is to start offering classes in HIT this spring.

Valerie Dobson, coordinator of the HIT program at McDowell Tech, and Susan Berley, resource development officer, completed the grant application with support from Penny Cross, dean of Health Sciences, and local partners, including Community Care Partners of Western North Carolina, McDowell Hospital, and Mountain Area Health Education Center (MAHEC).

“We are excited to be able to work with our community partners to offer Health Information Technology training to our partners and others throughout the region as they prepare to meet new electronic records reporting guidelines and procedures over the next several months,” said MTCC President Bryan W. Wilson.

He noted that the award of $300,000 per year for three consecutive years is the second largest in the college’s history. McDowell Tech was awarded a federal Title III grant in the mid-1980s of approximately $500,000 per year for three years.

“In particular, we will be working with existing medical offices, hospitals and other health care employers to help better prepare them to meet ‘meaningful use’ requirements in complying with federal regulations regarding electronic health records,” said Dobson.

Members of the faculty and staff will begin work this week on the first phase of the project, which will include marketing both individual classes and an HIT certificate program throughout the region, and planning specifically for unique and innovative course delivery methods for working HIT professionals.

“These are the folks who have the most immediate need for completing this training,” she said. “Many rural healthcare providers do not have a staff person dedicated solely to Health Information Technology (HIT) and existing staff do not have the flexibility to be able to take time away from the office during the day to attend traditional programs of study at McDowell Technical Community College,” read a portion of the college’s grant application.

By using hybrid and online course technologies, Dobson hopes to reach out to non-traditional students, both those who can complete coursework from their office setting and those who may need to complete coursework after-hours in their homes and other settings.

Those who complete a prescribed series of six courses will be able to earn a certificate in Healthcare Informatics, as well as an HIT Pro designation in one of six workforce roles. Those who choose to may then complete additional coursework toward an associate’s degree in Health Information Technology and the Registered Health Information Technician (RHIT) Credential awarded by the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA).

McDowell Technical Community College’s existing Health Information Technology associate degree program is accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Health Informatics and Information Management Education (CAHIIM).

In addition to existing health care employees, Berley added that the program will also target unemployed and underemployed individuals, IT (information technology) workers, as well as veterans, who may need additional training to find and obtain gainful employment.

“We feel very fortunate,” said Wilson, “that the committee recognized both the needs we have in this community, as well as our ability to meet those needs. Mrs. Dobson’s leadership in reaching out to folks in the health care community to help meet some of their needs is to be commended.”

Community Care of Western North Carolina will be a key partner in this project. CCWNC is a regional health network comprised of primary care providers, hospitals, health departments, departments of social services, and community organizations, including managed care organizations (MCO’s) and area health education centers (AHEC’s).