Cleveland Clinic is collaborating with area businesses to provide high-speed internet at subsidized prices to those living in the Fairfax neighborhood of Cleveland.
Cleveland Clinic is joining with nonprofit DigitalC, manufacturing company TransDigm Group Inc., and The Lubrizol Foundation, the charity arm of specialty chemicals provider The Lubrizol Corporation, to expand broadband connections in the neighborhood, providing equipment and subsidized internet subscription rates to residents.
Access to high-speed internet has emerged as a significant healthcare issue, especially in rural areas and among underserved populations and communities of color.
A 2020 Doximity report shows that 64% of households with incomes of $25,000 or less have broadband internet access, as compared with 93.5% of households with incomes of $50,000 or lower. In addition, 79% of white Americans have access to broadband and high-speed internet at home, versus 66% of Black and 61% of Hispanic Americans.
Limited internet access prevents people from reaping the benefits of telehealth, remote patient monitoring and other healthcare services that require a reliable internet connection.
The Covid-19 pandemic has further increased dependency on the internet for healthcare services, with the demand for telehealth rising sharply. But over half of physicians (58.2%) surveyed by the COVID-19 Healthcare Coalition in the summer said that lack of access to broadband/internet was a barrier to telehealth for their patients.
In Cleveland and its suburbs, the digital divide is wide, with nearly one-fourth of households lacking broadband connections, 2019 Census Bureau data shows.
“The primary goal [of the collaboration] is to help meet an immediate need for reliable, affordable broadband access in Fairfax,” Dr. Adam Myers, director of Cleveland Clinic Community Care and chief of population health for the health system, said in a phone call. “Broadband has long been a need across Northeast Ohio — in fact more than 50,000 homes lack this access. The Covid-19 pandemic has heightened the need for this kind of connectivity. With the transition to remote working, virtual schooling and virtual healthcare that depends on broadband access, this digital divide only stands to worsen.”
EmpowerCLE, a wireless internet service provider, will provide the broadband connection to the Fairfax neighborhood. EmpowerCLE was founded by and operates within DigitalC, an organization that aims to improve digital equity in Cleveland.
EmpowerCLE has installed equipment on the rooftops of two buildings on Cleveland Clinic’s main campus to beam the high-speed internet connection into the neighborhood, which is close to the campus. Staff from the internet service provider will connect with local households — with the help of Cleveland Clinic, which has relationships in the area — to install the needed equipment and establish the broadband connection, Myers said.
Additionally, TransDigm and The Lubrizol Foundation will provide funds to reduce the monthly internet subscription fee and the cost of equipment.
“Health disparities were not created overnight, and they will not be solved overnight,” Myers said.
Earlier this year, Cleveland Clinic joined the American Connection Project Broadband Coalition, which aims to provide high-speed internet to millions of people in rural and under-connected areas.
“This approach is not traditional for healthcare,” Myers added. “However, our situation and the health disparities in the United States demand something different. We believe it is this different approach that we’re taking that will begin to provide more solutions for people in need.”
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