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$1 million donation will expand Montana Pediatrics’ after-hours telemedicine program

by TAYLOR INMAN
Daily Inter Lake | May 26, 2023 12:00 AM

The Dennis and Phyllis Washington Foundation and Montana Pediatrics recently announced a two-year partnership to increase access to pediatric care for children, fueled by a $1 million investment.

The donation will expand Montana Pediatrics’ after-hours telemedicine program. Montana Pediatrics CEO Dr. Chelsea Bodnar said the expansion means parents and guardians can avoid choosing between expensive urgent care or emergency room visits and their child’s health.

“Our hope is that nobody feels alone in the middle of the night when trying to weigh the decision of what to do next when their child is sick or needs care,” Bodnar said.

According to a release from the foundation and Montana Pediatrics, only 20 of Montana's 56 counties have a practicing pediatrician, and the distribution of providers is skewed to the more populated areas and the western half of the state. Children in rural communities commonly receive medical attention at small hospitals and emergency departments that can lack the resources or expertise in pediatric care, according to the two organizations.

The Dennis and Phyllis Washington Foundation is a Missoula-based philanthropic organization with focuses on education, community service, arts and culture, and health and human services in the northwestern U.S. Funding for the foundation comes from personal contributions from the Washington family and annual contributions from The Washington Companies.

“Removing the financial and geographic barriers Montana families face is critical to the health and well-being of our youth,” said Mike Halligan, the foundation’s executive director. “This partnership will provide a healthier Montana future for all and we are proud to support Montana Pediatrics in providing high-quality pediatric telemedicine care for Montana children and families.”

In 2020, Montana Pediatrics convened a small group of Montana-based pediatric providers to pilot a program where families could access a pediatric-specific alternative to urgent care from their homes. Now, more than 50% of Montana’s practicing pediatric providers are part of its collaborative network and share on-call responsibilities to ensure pediatric care is available every evening, weekend and holiday.

Its after-hours telemedicine program is built to complement the care a child already receives and maintains a commitment to existing patient-provider relationships.

“For any family who accesses care from an after-hours visit, their primary care provider will have detailed notes from the visit by the next morning. We’re fiercely committed to continuity of care. It doesn't matter who the child’s provider is or how late at night we saw the child, we believe every provider should always be in the loop about their own patients,” Bodnar said.

Thus far in 2023, Montana Pediatrics has served more than 150 families with after-hours care for needs like fevers, stomachaches, ear infections, respiratory infections, bumps, bruises, rashes and more.

With the additional funding from the Dennis and Phyllis Washington Foundation, Montana Pediatrics plans to focus on increasing after-hours care in communities where pediatric-specific care is sparse or non-existent. By the end of 2024, the organization hopes to serve children and families from all 56 counties.

Logan Health President and CEO Dr. Craig Lambrecht serves as chair of the Montana Pediatrics Board of Directors. He said it’s well-known that access to health care can be challenging for rural families.

“This investment by The Dennis and Phyllis Washington Foundation will not only help the organization expand its reach but truly impact the lives of children and families across Montana for generations to come,” Lambrecht said.

To learn more about Montana Pediatrics or learn about accessing care, visit montanapediatrics.org.

Reporter Taylor Inman can be reached at 406-758-4433 or by emailing tinman@dailyinterlake.com.