Creators have big vision for health care informatics

When Ray Rogers and Pat Dudley start talking about their health care informatics plans, it’s hard to contain their excitement.
“ This could be done anywhere in the country,” said Dudley, director of human resources at St. James Healthcare. “ But we both
grew up in the shadow of the Anselmo Mine and it was really important we keep this in Butte.”

By Barbara LaBoe of The Montana Standard

“ Our goal is to help Butte with this,” added Rogers, Montana Tech’s director of college relations and market ing. “ We see it
having amaz ing potential.”
Health care informatics is a combination of traditional medical training with hightech information technology. As medical care
becomes increasingly dependent on computers and technology, officials said, more and more people need computer skills as well
as a strong medical background.

And through a partnership between St. James and Tech, Butte will be the home for the National Center for Health Care Informatics.
The latter will eventually house classrooms for the degree programs, a national resource and research library and a business
incubator. The project has received a $400,000 federal grant and has applied for an additional $1.5 million.
Initial plans called for using the $400,000 for start-up costs and architectural plans for the center, which will be located on the St.
James campus. Restrictions on the grant, however, state the money must be used for construction.

“ So we had to change gears a bit,” Rogers said.
Now, plans call for two classrooms on the Tech campus to be renovated as an interim location for offices and classes. The rooms
are in the Chemistry-Biology Building and are two that were not completed during the 1999 renovation of the building. Rogers
hopes to have the architect picked by February, with construction starting in the spring.

The classrooms will remain available to the center even after the headquarters are built at the hospital, and also will benefit the
Tech campus.
The center also is advertising for a head of the degree program. Officials also want to hire a grant writer to help secure additional
funding. Currently, existing Tech faculty teach the 29 students enrolled this fall, but more staff will be hired as needed.

For now, informatics classes are all on-line, with no physical classroom meetings, but once students become juniors they will have
to attend classes in Butte. Starting out on the Internet, though, is an excellent way to become used to the various technologies
they’ll use in the program, Rogers said.
The project has two main components: the degree program through Tech and the center.

In addition to eventually housing classes, Rogers and Dudley want the center to become a national resource and research library,
akin to the national Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, Ga.
Dudley also hopes to offer distance learning courses in several health care fields, something he said would be particularly valuable
for small, rural hospitals. And Rogers said they’ve already spoken to local physicians about joint research projects where the
doctors would conduct the studies and the center would provide the technological support.

They also want to serve as a business incubator for companies connected to informatics, allowing new software, for example, to be
developed at the center before moving out into the community as a separate business.

As for the degree program, Tech officials hope to increase it by 25 to 50 students a year, and to allow a multi-entry, multi-exit
approach, meaning students could start right out of high school or return to school after years of working as a nurse. Students can
leave after getting an associate’s degree, or stay for a bachelor’s degree.

The project has been in the works for more than two years, and Rogers and Dudley said officially receiving the first $400,000 has
helped make their initial dreams a reality.
“ What was a vision for so long is now taking shape,” Dudley said.

“ And, in a sense, we’re really mining a new ore in Butte now,” Rogers added. “ The ore of technology, specifically in health care.”

— Reporter Barbara LaBoe may be reached via e-mail at barbara.laboe(at)(at)

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