The Duke Endowment will invest $1.4 million in the Medical University of South Carolina's emerging telemedicine-ICU program this month.

Duke Endowment awards

Reading Partners Charleston: $52,000

"To implement Reading Partners, a promising tutorial program for disadvantaged youth."

Dee Norton Lowcountry Children's Center: $1,235,838

"To expand Project BEST, Bringing Empirically Supported Treatments to South Carolina's children and families."

MUSC Foundation: $1,444,688

"To establish a tele-ICU program for regional hospitals."

This is particularly good news considering MUSC administrators worried this fall that the institution may be ineligible for grant money from the endowment with no permanent president at the helm.

Historically, the Duke Endowment has not awarded new grants to organizations in between leaders, said Jim Fisher, vice president for development and alumni affairs, during the MUSC Board of Trustees' October meeting.

Former MUSC President Ray Greenberg left Charleston in September for a position within the University of Texas health care system. Until the board names his permanent replacement this spring, Provost Mark Sothmann is acting interim president.

"(The Duke Endowment) had very close relationship with Ray Greenberg," said Dr. Pat Cawley, chief executive officer of the Medical University Hospital.

In Greenberg's wake, the endowment allowed Cawley to assume that leadership role.

"It wasn't a big stretch," he said, because the endowment often consults hospital CEOs when it awards hospitals grant money.

Plus, Cawley's intention to expand telemedicine mirrored Greenberg's vision to grow the program.

The grant money will be used to bolster a new program to digitally expand MUSC's reach into rural parts of the state with fewer medical specialists.

Small and mid-size hospitals in South Carolina without around-the-clock access to intensive care specialists in their own communities can partner with the medical university using telemedicine starting next year.

"That could be 24/7 (remote) monitoring of the patient or it could be periodic consulting of a patient in that hospital," Cawley said.

So far, MUSC hasn't had any takers. Each partner hospital must invest a small amount to participate, Cawley said. On Monday, he could not estimate how much it will cost each hospital.

"The hospitals will have to put some resources in, but it's much, much less than if they had to go it alone," he said. "We're trying to sign hospitals up. ... We've given our first round until the end of January to decide. If not, we're going to move on to other hospitals."

Some of the costs for the partnerships will be offset by a $4 million investment that the S.C. General Assembly made in MUSC's telemedicine project this fiscal year through a legislative proviso.

"We think (telemedicine) is the way of the future to support and help retain clinicians in rural areas," Cawley said.

The Duke Endowment also announced this month that it will award more than $1 million in grants to other Charleston-area groups.

This includes $1.2 million for the Dee Norton Lowcountry Children's Center for an existing program to improve services, treatment and referrals for children who are victims of all sorts of trauma.

The S.C. Department of Social Services and the S.C. Department of Mental Health contributed a combined $110,387 to help fund this project for the next two years as well.

The Dee Norton Lowcountry Children's Center's efforts have helped over 21,000 child victims since 1991, according to a press release.

Also, Reading Partners Charleston was awarded $52,000 to help improve reading skills of disadvantaged youth. The nonprofit operates in eight Charleston County School District elementary schools.

A spokeswoman for the Duke Endowment said the Charlotte-based nonprofit typically announces grant recipients twice a year.

Schuyler Kropf contributed to this report. Reach Lauren Sausser at 937-5598.