Lincoln Health Center request gives county pause

04/09/2014 5:04 PM

04/09/2014 6:23 PM

DURHAM Durham county commissioners raised concerns Monday about a roughly $1 million request to help Lincoln Community Health Center create a unified database for patients also served by Duke Hospital.

Duke went live in March with a new electronic health record using Wisconsin-based Epic Systems. UNC Hospitals is implementing Epic Systems this month.

Lincoln officials hope to implement it in August and said they need to know at least 120 days beforehand whether they’ll get the county’s support. The Board of County Commissioners will take the matter up again May 5.

Officials said Epic is the new industry standard, that Lincoln needs to align its patient records with Duke’s and that it will lower costs for patients.

“With rapid communication we can serve more people, and we can serve them better,” said Lincoln Chief Medical Officer Dr. Howard Eisenson.

The total cost of implementing the new system at Lincoln is between $1.9 million and $2.1 million, officials said, and Duke would pay half that cost.

Lincoln would cover the $250,000 annual operating costs.

Commissioner Ellen Reckhow asked Monday whether Duke is bearing enough of the cost, considering that Lincoln serves as an “adjunct facility” for Duke.

But Lincoln Financial Secretary Craig Savage said one could argue the county’s responsibility is actually more than half because 85 percent of Lincoln patients don’t contribute financially to their care.

Commissioner Wendy Jacobs, whose husband is a doctor, described how he has struggled to adapt to the new Epic system, but she also said Lincoln will have to go with Epic eventually.

“It’s here. It’s growing,” she told Lincoln officials. “So I applaud you taking the initiative.”

Interim County Manager Lee Worsley said if the commissioners decide to fund the move, the money could come from the community health trust fund, which has $13.7 million in it now.

Worsley added, however, that $6.7 million of that is committed to other uses, and that the amount of money flowing into that fund will decrease in coming years.

Worsley noted that Lincoln’s request comes at an inconvenient time when the county is just starting its budget process for the fiscal year tha begins July 1.

“We have a lot on our plates,” Reckhow said.

Lincoln, at 1301 Fayetteville St., has its roots as Durham’s black hospital and serves as a primary care facility for an underserved population.

“I value what Lincoln is doing,” said board Chairman Michael Page, “particularly when it comes to individual care. ... We realize the importance of trying to make this happen.”


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