With over 30 locations, 80 programs, and 750 staff members, Community Health Resources (CHR) is a behavioral health leader in Central and Eastern CT. Michelle Ruby became the Director of Information Technology for CHR in 2012 and believes CHR has also become, “a technological leader in the Behavioral Health Industry”
Read on to learn more about how CHR has evolved and changed since 2012.
CHR is a non-profit offering a range of services for people whose lives have been touched by mental illness, addiction, trauma, and more. Michelle joined with decades of experience in technology, and quickly recognized areas requiring attention.
In a climate of rapidly evolving technology, CHR’s infrastructure had surpassed end of life and many software applications were versions behind. The changing needs of employees were not being met and system failures were excessive. Michelle observed these issues did not just affect employees; they also had significant impact on the company as well as the clients. “When a client is sitting across from you and your EHR locks up or stops functioning, you are losing valuable time in that session with your client. Staff were finding the continued interrupts to be a barrier to meeting productivity as well as strict medical record timeline compliance requirements.
As CHR deals with sensitive medical and personal information for thousands of people, HIPAA compliance is a top priority. “We’ve got thousands of pieces of hardware; each must be supported under support contracts. As equipment ages out, you have to have a replacement plan. That’s a big deal,” Michelle said, adding that HIPAA compliance also pertains to software version management, failover, disaster recovery, and backups. “It’s challenging,” Michelle noted, “but we have client information we need to make every effort to protect. Data breeches, system outages or failures, are not options.” Beyond considerable fines, Michelle said HIPAA violations could mean disqualification from receiving funds at both the State and Federal levels. “There can be a significant financial impact for non-compliance
Beyond all of these challenges, Michelle was focused on her team. When she joined CHR, Michelle said the overall opinion of IT was, “unfavorable. . The systemic issues cast a shadow on the image of IT. If equipment or a system does not work, users often view it as the IT departments fault, so people were very unhappy with IT. Part of my mission was to change that culture.” At that time, “CHR needed an aggressive IT strategy and need to close the gap in end user support,”” Michelle said, and began the work of implementing a better solution.
“The changes in use and handling of health information are dramatic. EHRs data integration, health care information exchange, and other types of collaborations require technology. In order to compete for limited resources, we must have a strong infrastructure.”
Obtaining outside support and expertise was the top priority. “You can’t make decisions in a box,” Michelle said. “You can’t choose a phone system and not know the network you’re on, or how the equipment will manage it – you need to look at the whole picture.” The search for a vendor that could bring knowledge of emerging technologies and industry trends began.
Michelle trusted AKUITY’s expertise, but wanted to consider IT companies closer to CHR’s CT headquarters. Ultimately, she said, the other providers, “couldn’t sway me from the comfort level I had with AKUITY.” Michelle felt the variety of expertise AKUITY offers helped she and her team feel confident about their decision-making, and in 2016 AKUITY Technologies became CHR’s Managed IT Service Provider.
Starting with their servers, AKUITY helped CHR make improvements, which would not only improve the work environments for the employees, but also meet new HIPAA compliance goals. “It was almost like building a brand new foundation,” Michelle said. “We put together a plan because we obviously can’t do everything at once, and the long-term plan was critical. We managed to do everything we needed to within two years,” she said.
These upgrades, from backups and firewalls to hardware and software, have dramatically changed employee attitudes toward IT. Michelle said IT is, “thought of very highly now. You can tell in the way people are treated; users are much happier.” She attributes this to IT providing much more than they could before: “We’re not just putting out fires, we’re moving forward. We’re looking at ‘how do folks work, and how can we make it better for them?’ Instead of being completely reactive, we’re able to be proactive, and that’s a huge, huge differentiator.”
The in-house IT staff are also thriving, as they’re able to continue learning by leveraging AKUITY’s exposure in other businesses. Michelle said these knowledge transfers are, “really important – we don’t want to call for every little thing. We want to be able to support ourselves. My people need enough knowledge to do the daily stuff, and AKUITY provides that.” She views the relationship as valuable in the long term as well, because, “technology is ever-changing. You don’t just set it and forget it.”
Michelle explained that she is selective with how she spends the non-profit’s funds on technology, but that with the improvements made in the past two years, “there’s absolutely been a return on the investment.” One recent return is a multi-million dollar federal grant CHR was awarded in 2018, with which CHR will pilot a new approach to patient care and information exchange through technology. “If we didn’t have the strong infrastructure that we have built, then there is no way that we would be positioned to take on the huge endeavor of this grant,” Michelle said. “It’s a new model and we’ve been chosen to pilot it. I’m quite sure that many of the grants we are awarded are because of our technological abilities to meet challenges.”
CHR’s distance from AKUITY’s Auburn, MA location initially had Michelle looking for a local vendor. However, after the initial upgrades and regular knowledge exchanges, she recognizes that, “so much can be done remotely, and we’ve built a strong relationship, so I’m ok with the distance. I don’t need people on-site – unless I need people on-site. It’s absolutely not been any issue.” With CHR’s staff learning from AKUITY, she said, “AKUITY comes out a lot less, but they are definitely there when we need them.”