Klamath Health CTO Jessica Chastain on upgrading technology and the challenges delivering rural healthcare

Jessica Chastain, Chief Technology Officer of Klamath Health Partnership, has always wanted to help people. It’s been a drive of hers since childhood. Her initial goal was to be a surgeon, only to discover the hard way that the sight of blood didn’t agree with her. However, it remained a focus for her, even as her career plans changed.

Eventually, Chastain moved into the government sector as a systems analyst for Klamath County. “I did that for two years becoming the IT director,” she explains. “I was IT director for eight years before I came over to Klamath Health Partnership as its Chief Technology Officer. Now, I’m really getting the opportunity to help people. You don’t go into government or nonprofits to get rich – you do it because you want to do good.”

The mission

Klamath Health’s mission is to see and treat anybody, regardless of their ability to pay or their insurance status. It’s the second largest healthcare organisation in Klamath County and has over 11,000 patients to care for. Due to the fact that it aims to see everybody, a lot of its patient population is quite vulnerable. As a result, Klamath Health tries its best to meet those patients where they’re at.

“We have our main clinic but also five satellite clinics,” Chastain explains. “We offer everything from clinical healthcare, to dental, to behavioural health, to what we call ‘wraparound services’. If we have a vulnerable patient who needs their medication, we’ll take it to them.”

For Chastain, her specific goal is to protect the data of those vulnerable citizens of Klamath County. Making a start on this was challenging, when she joined the Klamath Health team. For around a decade, the organisation didn’t have any true in-house technology or IT experts. It was using a managed service provider and this meant that when Chastain stepped in, there were a lot of technology deficiencies within Klamath Health. 

The technology challenges

While Chastain is now firmly on the case with upgrading Klamath Health’s technology, there are challenges. Thanks to the rural nature of the area, there are unique barriers to deal with. “You typically don’t have the type of funding in rural areas that you would in an urban area,” she explains. “You don’t have the staffing resources either. It’s harder to hire people that have the knowledge and skill set you need, and it’s hard to retain them because they often want to move to the city to earn more.

“When I started in technology, people stayed in one or two places until they retired. Now, people come to us as a stepping stone to the next organisation. Trying to find people that are committed and understand what it means to work in a rural environment is tricky.”

And for Chastain, it’s about picking and choosing which technologies Klamath Health can and will put in place. She has to make the best of what she’s able to get her hands on, choosing carefully to make sure the organisation progresses despite limited resources. 

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