What is Illinois Rural HealthNet?

IRHN was created in 2008 as a not-for-profit organization focused on creating new high bandwidth connectivity and applications that lower operating costs while delivering better patient care. Initially focused on providing connectivity to primarily rural healthcare providers, IRHN has expanded its reach to include a multitude of members across a broad range of geographic areas.

Illinois Rural HealthNet (IRHN) is a 501c3 organization comprised of healthcare providers operating as a consortium. IRHN created and operates a high-speed high security private network connecting a variety of hospitals and clinics in Illinois.

The needs of health care providers are constantly changing, so in a certain sense, the mission of IRHN will never be fully completed. The network and applications made available to users over IRHN will grow and change as the needs of its users continue to evolve. As of May 2019, over 65 healthcare sites connect to the redundant IRHN fiber backbone. These sites are accessing centralized radiology services, exchanging information with each other directly or via data centers, as well as utilizing large dual sourced Internet connections provided by IRHN to manage their health care enterprises. Additional member locations are connecting on an ongoing basis as IRHN continues to expand and improve at a rate commensurate with our user’s needs.

Through IRHN, rural healthcare entities are linked to each other and to urban medical centers, allowing access to a variety of telemedicine applications. In addition to robust access to the Internet, IRHN sites also operate a myriad of applications that require high bandwidth, low latency and secure connectivity over a private connection. With an IRHN connection, healthcare providers are able to meet new operational requirements, treat patients more efficiently, realize cost savings through sharing applications, consult remotely with specialists while patients are at the hospital, and send and receive all manner of radiological and digital imaging expeditiously.

IRHN meets the broadband recommendations of the National Institute of Health and the Healthcare section of the National Broadband Plan.

How is IRHN funded?

Significant funding for the initial $24 million network investment was provided by the Federal Communications Commission, through its Rural Healthcare Pilot Program. Users of the network provided direct support in the form of a 15% match for certain capital expenditures.

In 2013, IRHN began its transition to underlying support funding from the FCC’s Healthcare Connect Fund (HCF).

Operational support comes from users in the form of a membership fee. When user support is combined with underlying HCF funding (up to 65% of eligible costs) the network offers high value and long-term sustainability.

If your facility is currently receiving HCF funding as an individual filer, or as a participant in another consortium, you may also participate in IRHN. HCF eligible members often participate at multiple levels for available funding support. There is no cost or obligation in providing a Letter of Agency to IRHN to join the consortium. If actual membership is the path you choose IRHN will work directly with your group or individual site to organize the specific levels of service that you choose.

Who is the broadband service provider?

A wide variety of service provider, vendor products and network components are organized and managed to form the functional high speed highly secure private network that is IRHN. These vendors were selected utilizing a fair, open and transparent bidding process managed under USAC guidelines. The most favorable RFP responses are chosen to construct connections and operational capabilities of the network. IRHN maintains an ongoing relationship with a variety of equipment providers as well as network providers to manage and grow the network.

IRHN also supports its users with two Network Operations Centers.

Who is eligible to join IRHN?

The following are eligible to be connected to IRHN, per the FCC rules for the Healthcare Connect Fund: 

  • Public and not-for-profit healthcare providers;
  • Post-secondary educational institutions offering healthcare instruction, teaching hospitals, or medical schools;
  • Dedicated emergency departments of rural for-profit hospitals;
  • Community mental health centers;
  • Skilled nursing facilities.

Certain urban-based healthcare providers are also eligible for funding support through the consortium as well provided IRHN maintains an adequate level of rural users.

For-profit hospitals, medical facilities, and healthcare related entities also are eligible to be connected, however these sites are required by the FCC to support the network through a “fair share” cost component for port access. IRHN welcomes for-profit facilities that serve healthcare and will be happy to provide more information regarding membership upon request.