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Virginia Eastern Shore drone medical delivery program showcased at demonstration for U.S. Department of Transportation

Dr. Robert Hampshire with Eastern Shore resident Elva Malone who choose to receive her medication via drone during the demo.

Together, DroneUp, ODU, Riverside Health System, Accomack Northampton Planning Commission and VIPC are reaching new heights in rural health care access.

This project marks a significant step forward in the advancement of drone technology to improve access to health care in rural communities by delivering medications straight to a patient’s doorstep.”
— Dr. Robert Hampshire, U.S. Department of Transportation

RICHMOND, VIRGINIA, UNITED STATES, February 29, 2024 /EINPresswire.com/ -- A milestone event in reaching new heights for rural health care was held on Monday, February 26th in Onancock, Virginia. As part of an initiative funded by the United States Department of Transportation’s Strengthening Mobility and Revolutionizing Transportation (SMART) Grants Program, Riverside Health System, Virginia Institute for Spaceflight & Autonomy (VISA) at Old Dominion University, Accomack-Northampton Planning District Commission (A-NPDC), the Virginia Innovation Partnership Corporation (VIPC) and DroneUp collaborated to honor Heart Health Awareness month with a demonstration of heart medications delivered to patients by drone.

Part of the Elevating Health Care Access (EHCA), the initiative is the collective efforts of these partner organizations. VIPC provided the project’s initial funding, which enabled the team to jump start the exploration of use cases, concepts of operations, and Eastern Shore community engagement efforts.

Dr. Robert Hampshire, the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Research and Technology and Chief Scientist of the U.S. Department of Transportation, was in attendance at the event where the EHCA team conducted 1-2 mile line of site delivery of medication to patients via drone, showcasing the progress the team is making with the SMART Grant funds. "This project marks a significant step forward in the advancement of drone technology to improve access to health care in rural communities by delivering medications straight to a patient’s doorstep,” Dr. Hampshire stated.

Eastern Shore resident Elva Malone was one of the patients who received her medication via drone during the demo. "I thought it was awesome. I thought this was like a little old bucolic town. I thought, boy, how progressive for a little place like this to get into drones. It’s the wave of the future, I hope. And I was certainly excited to be part of it."

Congresswoman Jennifer Kiggans also attended the demo and spoke about her experience as a Geriatric Nurse Practitioner and a helicopter pilot in the Navy before serving in Congress. “Just understanding the needs of that patient population, and then when you take into account rural health care as well, I can think of no better usage for drones than to be able to deliver medication from the hospital or from the provider, to patients who have those transportation issues.”

The next step in operations is to conduct test flights under a recently obtained Beyond Line of Sight (BVLOS) waiver, ultimately traveling the 18-mile distance to Tangier Island.
Riverside Health System (RHS) service area includes the Eastern Shore of Virginia, a 70-mile stretch between the waters of the Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic Ocean, which is one of the few remaining rural regions on the Atlantic Seaboard. Due to socioeconomic factors, some residents may have limited transportation options to receive pharmaceutical care.

High blood pressure, also called hypertension, and heart disease are a common and potentially life-threatening condition that affects millions of individuals globally. Timely and consistent access to medications is necessary for managing this chronic condition effectively. Residents of Virginia’s Eastern Shore have a higher prevalence of hypertension than the rest of the Commonwealth of Virginia, which is why this project is focused on reaching patients in this area. Taking prescribed medications regularly can reduce unnecessary emergency department visits and improve health outcomes.

The initiative will help streamline the regular distribution of hypertension medication to Riverside patients who live on the Eastern Shore and Tangier Island, ensuring they receive the medications they need promptly. Drone delivery for critical medical cargo is in support of optimizing health equity and patient outcomes and improving supply chain efficiencies. DroneUp’s delivery can carry supplies of up to 10 pounds and ensure they are delivered in an ongoing cadence, so patients are never without their prescription.

“This operation is a testament to our dedication, safety and innovation. At DroneUp, we’re honored to be a part of this incredible initiative that will create important pathways for life-saving medications to quickly and cost-effectively reach patients,” shared Tom Walker, CEO of DroneUp.

“We are grateful for the outpouring of support we have received for this pilot program,” said Nick Chuquin, President of Riverside Shore Memorial Hospital (RSMH). “We know that drone service delivery to our patients living in rural areas of our community will not only improve access to medications but also improve patient outcomes.”

“We truly appreciated and want to thank Rep. Jen Kiggans, Dr. Hampshire and Stan Caldwell, Director of the SMART Grants program, and all the local county supervisors for taking time out of their busy schedules to attend the event. The demonstration event was 100% successful and set the stage for our next demonstration flights of 3-5 miles Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS). Then, following longer range test flights at NASA Wallops, we will be ready for the late spring flights to Tangier Island,” said John Costulis, Project Manager for the DOT SMART grant from ODU/VISA.

“This partnership is another important step in validating the opportunities for drone technologies and innovation to positively impact the health care and public safety industry. We’re pleased VIPC’s investment into DroneUp and initial investment into this pilot program have helped launch Elevating Health Care Access (EHCA) to enhance the lives of Eastern Shore residents,” said Chris Sadler, director of the Public Safety Innovation Center at the Virginia Innovative Partnership Corporation (VIPC). “The FAA waivers that DroneUp secured are critical for the success of this project and will lead to many other life-saving delivery capabilities for first responders and medical providers in Virginia and beyond.”

To learn more about EHCA, please visit https://visaatodu.org

About Riverside Health System
Riverside Health System (RHS) is an integrated health network touching 2 million lives annually. Serving Eastern Virginia since 1915, Riverside is guided by a mission to “care for others as we would care for those we love.” The health system offers a variety of services and programs in the areas of prevention, primary care, diagnostics, neurosciences, oncology, orthopedics, aging-related services, rehabilitation, medical education, home care and hospice. RHS operates four acute-care hospitals, a mental health and recovery hospital with a dedicated psychiatric emergency department , in addition to a physical rehabilitation hospital and a critical illness recovery hospital in partnership with Select Medical. RHS is also under construction on the new Riverside Smithfield Hospital, scheduled to open in early 2026. Riverside Medical Group has more than 750 physicians and advanced practice providers across a broad spectrum of specialties in over 110 locations throughout the region. Riverside Lifelong Health operates six nursing home facilities and three vibrant continuing care retirement communities alongside Riverside Home Health and Hospice services. In addition to these health care services, RHS operates the Riverside College of Health Careers and six medical residency programs. The company employs more than 9,500 team members throughout Eastern Virginia. For more information on Riverside, visit riversideonline.com.

About Virginia Innovation Partnership Corporation (VIPC)
VIPC: Connecting innovators with opportunities. As the nonprofit operations arm of the Virginia Innovation Partnership Authority (VIPA), VIPC is the commercialization and seed stage economic development driver in the Commonwealth that leads funding, infrastructure, and policy initiatives to support Virginia’s innovators, entrepreneurs, startups, and market development strategies. VIPC collaborates with local, regional, state, and federal partners to support the expansion and diversification of Virginia’s economy.

Programs include: Virginia Venture Partners (VVP) | VVP Fund of Funds |Commonwealth Commercialization Fund (CCF) | Petersburg Founders Fund (PFF) | Smart Communities | The Virginia Smart Community Testbed | The Virginia Unmanned Systems Center | Virginia Advanced Air Mobility Alliance (VAAMA) | The Public Safety Innovation Center |Entrepreneurial Ecosystems | Regional Innovation Fund (RIF) | Federal Funding Assistance Program (FFAP) for SBIR & STTR | University Partnerships | Startup Company Mentoring & Engagement. For more information, please visit www.VirginiaIPC.org. Follow VIPC on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

About VISA
The Virginia Institute for Spaceflight and Autonomy (VISA), located on the Eastern Shore, is chartered to grow the entrepreneurial ecosystems for space flight and autonomy. The Institute is the hub to leverage Virginia’s world-class assets in space launch, autonomous systems, modeling and simulation and data science to solve real-world problems, such as those being explored by DroneUp and Riverside Health. Through industry, academic and governmental agency partnerships, VISA’s vision is to create an environment of research, technology, commercialization, and educational opportunities to grow the spaceflight and autonomous systems industry.

About A-NPDC
The Accomack-Northampton Planning District Commission (A-NPDC), created by the Commonwealth of Virginia, has been the Eastern Shore of Virginia’s regional planning organization since 1970. The Planning District Commission is comprised of elected officials from the Board of Supervisors of both Eastern Shore counties as well as town community leaders. The Planning District Commission is tasked with supporting local planning and economic development efforts and providing technical assistance on behalf of the Commonwealth.

About DroneUp
DroneUp is a leading drone technology company in the drone delivery and service space. DroneUp brings deep expertise in drone operations by combining airspace solutions, software applications, analytics platforms, and a trusted team of industry leaders to help companies easily and efficiently integrate drones into their businesses. DroneUp’s Drone Ecosystem solution includes an ecosystem of self-service and automated tools for sending and receiving deliveries by drone. Founded in 2016, DroneUp is headquartered in Virginia Beach, Virginia.
For more information: https://www.droneup.com

Angela Costello, Vice President of Communications
Virginia Innovation Partnership Corporation (VIPC)
angela.costello@VirginiaIPC.org
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