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District 87 Representative Four Price, left, watches Maria Chacon, RN, director of Nursing at Great Plains Nursing and Rehabilitation, demonstrate how the institution uses telemedicine to care for patients.  Representative Price paid a visit to the nursing home on Friday.  He has been a champion of telemedicine in the Texas Legislature. 

State Representative Four Price toured Great Plains Nursing and Rehabilitation Friday and watched as Director of Nursing Maria Chacon, RN, demonstrated the facility's new telehealth system that uses internet technology to allow medical professionals to monitor patients, assess their condition, and adjust treatments remotely.  

The system went online at Great Plains September 1, 2019.  Physicians and other health professionals using it can see and interact with patients and monitor vital signs like blood pressure and heart rates.  "The system gives direct access to any of the physicians that cover the facility or our attending physician out of Amarillo," said Krista Markham, Director of Marketing and Admissions at Great Plains.  It does not eliminate personal contact with physicians, however.  "The physicians are here when they can be.  This is really for maybe during clinics and they can't get away or a day when they are not scheduled to be in the facility," she said.  

The system also allows nursing supervisors to better monitor residents' medical condition.  "Maria can look and see what is going on, communicate with her nurses, and get a visual on something that is happening with a resident," she said.  "Our director of nursing spends a lot of hours in the facility, because it is really important, but we want her to have a break and be able to go home.  (The system) gives her direct access to what is going on without having to be here 24/7."

Chacon says use of the system has reduced, though not eliminated, the need to transport patients to clinics, doctors' offices, and hospitals, something that is especially important during times of bad weather.

"I liked the implementation of telehealth technology," said Price after the demonstration.  "For several years I have worked in the legislature to pass telemedicine bills which enable us to provide access to care in a more modern fashion, allows us to not have to transfer patients or call on doctors to leave a clinic or hospital, and it is just better for everybody.  The use of it has become more common, and I am really encouraged to see that they are using it here."  Price was the author of four bills promoting the use of telehealth technology in Texas during the 86th Legislature.  Two of them, HB 1063 and HB 3345, were passed by the legislature and signed into law by Governor Abbott. 

In addition to the telehealth demonstration, Markham and Great Plains Director Tammie Porter led Price on a tour of the entire facility.  He watched residents receive physical and occupational therapy, chatted with the daughter of a resident in her mother's room, watched women having their hair done in the beauty shop the nursing home maintains for residents, and ate a piece of bacon-wrapped chicken that was part of a cooking demonstration in the facility dining hall.  Markham says Great Plains, which received an overall rating of five stars ("much above average") from Medicare for quality of care, regularly puts on cooking demonstrations for residents and encourages them to get involved as a way to stay actively engaged.  "We all love food," she said.  "The kitchen is the heart and soul of any home, and we see it as the heart and soul of ours."

Representative Price has made health care, especially the unique challenges of delivering health care to rural populations, a focus of his political career.  He said he was impressed by what he saw Friday.  "It is a great facility for the region … they take great care of the residents … the dedication to quality care by the staff is very evident."

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