In September of 2004, the Commission approved funding for the Nebraska Statewide Telehealth Network (NSTN). This network connects 68 rural and critical access hospitals across the state to hub hospitals in Grand Island, Kearney, Lincoln, Norfolk, North Platte, Omaha, and Scottsbluff, allowing the rural and critical access hospitals to connect to specialists at urban facilities in areas such as trauma, radiology, endocrinology, and many other areas. The existence of the NSTN allows the rural facilities to provide expanded healthcare services to their communities, saving patients in rural areas the time, cost and inconvenience of traveling long distances for their specialized healthcare needs. The NSTN also provides a video conference resource for both rural and urban facilities to use in areas of education, training and administrative meetings, saving those facilities substantial amounts of time and travel costs involved with those activities. Funding from the NUSF also provides funding for certain approved equipment costs necessary to operate the network, such as routers, firewalls and bridges, and T-1 lines that connect urban hub hospitals, that are a necessary component of the statewide network, yet not eligible for federal telehealth support.
Funding to the NSTN is based on an approved plan listing funding amounts to those critical access hospitals, rural hospitals and hub hospitals eligible for NUSF funding and is capped at $900,000 per fiscal year. Sites are required to first avail themselves of federal funding and funding from the NUSF is supplemental and secondary to federal funding sources. Federal funding to rural hospitals buys down the cost of the T-1 lines to the urban to rural difference, the rural hospitals are then responsible for paying a portion of their costs for connectivity, with the NUSF providing funding for the difference.
Payment of support for the telehealth program is disbursed directly to the Nebraska Eligible Telecommunications Carrier (NETC) providing the service to the hospital. Telecommunication companies receiving telehealth funding are subject to the Commission’s audit requirements to ensure compliance with the program and to verify that all credits have been appropriately placed on the correct accounts.