Secretary Michael Leavitt, who heads the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, was in town Tuesday talking to health officials about using teleconferencing technology to address rural health needs.
Leavitt, who is a member of President George Bush's cabinet, visited the Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium's campus to see telebehavioral health program equipment that SEARHC uses to provide psychiatric, behavioral and substance abuse treatment to remote villages in Southeast Alaska.
He said the purpose of his three-day Alaska tour was to see how his department's money was being spent. Leavitt said he was encouraged by the effectiveness of the technology, which at SEARHC's Juneau campus includes a large screen TV and a high tech Webcam.
"I can see that it's a great blessing to the lives of those served by it," Leavitt said. "It's uniquely useful here because of the distances and remote nature. I don't know if there's anywhere within the continental United States where people would be quite as remote as they might be in some villages in Alaska."
Since April 2003, SEARHC has used the technology to provide about 1,200 patient hours to 293 participants around the state.