Blue Mountain Health System's gamble on a gaming revenue grant has paid off to the tune of $700,184.

The money, from the Monroe Local Share Account, will be used to develop the hospitals' information technology, laying the groundwork for the health system's federally-mandated electronic health records system.

"We have to spend about $13 million over the next 10 years in order for us to get to a point where we get $8 million back from the federal government," said BMHS president/CEO Andrew Harris. "That's really an incredible strain on an organization of our size. This is a big step in helping us make the first few years of capital investment."

"Using funds obtained from this grant will purchase and install a Health Information technology Wide Area Network that will support an electronic health record system that meets the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services meaningful use guidelines," said health system spokeswoman Lisa Johnson.

"In doing so, the Blue Mountain Health System can leverage $8,000,000 in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act incentive payments that can be put back into various Information technology capital improvements at both Gnaden Huetten and Palmerton) hospitals," she said.

Harris, at a celebration held Friday at BMHS' Gnaden Huetten campus in Lehighton, said the gaming revenue grant was the "largest grant that we've received ... during the time that Blue Mountain has been together as a single entity."

BMHS was formed in 2004 by combining Gnaden Huetten with Palmerton Hospital.

Harris thanked Carbon County commissioners and the county Redevelopment Authority for helping Blue Mountain obtain the grant by submitting the application.

"We applied for an $800,000 grant, and there's no way we could have gotten that by just submitting an application. We were able to get that money through the support and backing" of the local and state officials, Harris said. "Today is the day to say thank you. We are a small organization, a not-for-profit organization ... we're very limited in our funds and our resources."

County Commissioners Chairman William O'Gurek said he and his colleagues "are really happy about the grant. We had a small role, to provide letters of support. The hospital administration had contacted us, back when (former state Rep./House speaker) Keith (McCall) was here, and asked us if we would be supportive, and naturally we would."

O'Gurek said that all three commissioners "are very, very fond of the hospital. My children were born here. This is really a hospital whose people make a caring difference."

State Sen. John Yudichak said "This is great for Carbon County. This is an investment in the quality of life in Carbon County, not only in improving patient care and saving lives, but it's creating and helping to retain jobs. This hospital system is the second-largest employer in Carbon County, so this is very important in terms of the overall quality of life in Carbon County."

He credited the spirit of bipartisan cooperation for the success.

"Sen. (David G.) Argall, Rep. (Doyle) Heffley, the county commissioners (William) O'Gurek, (Charles) Getz, (Wayne) Nothstein showed Harrisburg that if you work together, regardless of party, you can get things done, and this is a great example of that," Yudichak said.

"It's a real success for the team approach," Argall said. "John is absolutely right. We all worked together as a bipartisan team and that's why we're here today."

Nothstein expanded on Harris' mention of the electronic records system as a federal mandate.

"Certainly grants like this are what keeps places like this operating and efficient. The sad part is that this is an unfunded mandate – we're supposed to do all these things, but no money is ever supplied. This is a federal mandate, and here are state and other elected officials pushing to get funding to make this happen," he said.

"It was something that was an interest of mine and a concern of mine, to help the hospital," said state Rep. Doyle Heffley.

He cited the large numbers of people served by the health system, and the numbers of jobs it provides.

"I've had family members who have had their lives saved at both these campuses, so this was important," he said.

Harris lauded the support of elected officials as he announced even more good news.

"We are here to stay: We are growing, we are building and we are doing some really good things in the county," Harris said. "I'm very excited to say that we are going to close our fiscal year at a profit of close to a 1 percent margin, which is probably in excess of a $10 million turnaround for us over a four-year period."

Since BMHS's creation, much of Gnaden Huetten's and Palmerton Hospital's available funds have been funneled into operations, "making it nearly impossible to buy all of the needed equipment and health information technology system that have become critical for the operation of the hospitals. Having access to a reliable health information technology network– the data servers, switches and other hardware that will be used to support the creation and implementation of an electronic health record – is essential for all of the hospitals' departments, its medical staff and the patients served," Johnson said.

With the installation of electronic health records, "it is anticipated that data storage, retrieval and transmission tasks will be streamlined and patient safety outcomes improved as all data generated will be consolidated into one record of service," she said. "Revenues will be improved as the system will accurately capture data for claim reimbursement, resulting in fewer denials and underpayments; efficiencies in monitoring/tracking clinical outcome data will occur, health care jobs will be retained and seven additional Information Technology positions will be created; and a viable foundation for an electronic health record will be in place that will meet the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Electronic Health Record meaningful use guidelines

The Monroe Local Share Account funds are made available by the Pennsylvania Race Horse Development and Gaming Act for the purpose of distributing the 2 percent of gross terminal revenues from Mount Airy Casino Resort. Applications are evaluated by the state Department of Community and Economic Development, based on the applications adherence to the Keystone Principles for Growth – economic impact, economic conditions of the area, level of private sector investment being leveraged, other local financial support, project readiness, strategic importance and financial need.

The more the project meets the above criteria, the more competitive the application. Those projects meeting these criteria are then forwarded to the Commonwealth Financing Authority for their consideration and eventual award, Johnson said.