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URI gets $14M grant for cognitive disability care

By David Klepper
Associated Press / July 23, 2012
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CRANSTON, R.I.—The University of Rhode Island will lead an effort to improve health care for adults with dementia and other significant intellectual disabilities while reducing the cost to taxpayers, thanks to a $14 million federal grant announced Monday.

The money will pay for a new approach that stresses community-based and preventative care for cognitively disabled patients and that aims to reduce more costly hospitalizations and emergency room visits. The grant is expected to save the state and federal governments $15.5 million in health care costs over three years.

"This is the best kind of savings -- savings that come from improved performance," U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, a Democrat, said following the announcement. "These are people who have a lot of poverty ... a lot of illness. They will receive better care at a lower cost to the taxpayers."

The project is the creation of URI professor Elaina Goldstein, whose proposal was one of 107 around the United States selected for a grant from among 3,000 applicants. Goldstein said her intention is to help a vulnerable group of Rhode Islanders get better care at lower costs. She said she hopes other states will adopt similar initiatives when they see it working in Rhode Island.

"One of the things about being Rhode island is that you get to test things on a small scale," she said.

The program is expected to serve as many as 1,900 patients over the age of 20 who have significant cognitive disabilities, like dementia or those with Alzheimers disease, who receive Medicaid and Medicare benefits. Goldstein said she's optimistic the program will be continued after three years.

The project will combine a focus on preventative medicine with teams of health care providers that tailor care to suit an individual person's needs. When possible, care will be administered at community agencies that work with disabled adults. Patients would also be taught ways they can manage chronic health problems to reduce hospital and nursing home admissions.

Unnecessary visits to emergency rooms can drive up the costs of caring for adults with chronic illnesses, Goldstein said. She said giving patients better preventative care -- and help managing their conditions on their own -- reduces the burden on emergency rooms and gives the patient a better quality of life.

The program is expected to provide about 31 new health care jobs and training for 226 workers. The new positions are expected to be filled by people with disabilities, some of whom will work as peer mentors to offer guidance to other disabled adults.

Whitehouse, Gov. Lincoln Chafee, U.S. Rep. David Cicilline and URI officials made the formal announcement at AccessPoint RI, a nonprofit agency that works with adults with disabilities. The group is one of four agencies that will work with URI on the project. Chafee said Goldstein's project shows government can find more effective ways of providing vital services.

"Go URI," said Chafee, an independent. "Keep up the good work."

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