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ECHO Act receives critical support in COVID-19 relief bill

On December 21, 2020, the U.S. Congress passed a $900 billion COVID-19 relief bill known as the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act.

The emergency relief package – in addition to introducing comprehensive measures to help Americans amid the ongoing economic and public health crisis – included the latest version of Extension for Community Healthcare Outcomes (ECHO) Act.

Passing the latest version of the ECHO Act reinforces the long-term sustainability of different ECHO hubs and ECHO projects across the country. The new measure creates a $50 million, five-year program under the Department of Health and Human Services to award grants leading to the development, expansion and evaluation of technology-enabled collaborative learning and capacity building models.

In 2016, the original version of the ECHO Act was passed serving as a significant milestone in the collective efforts to grow the ECHO movement across the country. The ECHO Act aims to better integrate the ECHO model that was developed in response to the pressing need to face rural health challenges. The innovative medical education model uses interactive videoconferencing to link specialist teams with primary care providers in rural and underserved areas. In West Virginia, the program has been operating for over four years and has expanded to include a wide range of sessions including COVID-19.

Witnessing firsthand the model’s numerous benefits, the WV Project ECHO team and Jennifer Boyd, PA-C, clinical coordinator with the West Virginia Primary Care Association and family practice physician’s assistant at the New River Health Association, advocated for the crucial support of the ECHO Act during the ECHO Institute’s Policy Summit held in June 2019 in Washington, D.C.

During the summit, the WV Project ECHO team met with state representatives about the ECHO model and its importance in WV. Boyd shared her personal experience as a provider showcasing the model’s significance to revolutionize medical education and exponentially increase workforce capacity to provide best-practice specialty care and reduce health disparities.