By C.J. Lovelace
The Herald-Mail of Hagerstown

BOONSBORO, Md. (AP) — With the push of a button, new videoconferencing technology at San Mar Children’s Home is making it possible to communicate with family members, therapists and educators that could be anywhere else in the world.

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San Mar, in conjunction with the Maryland Department of Juvenile Services, has secured a federal grant worth $450,883 to purchase and install a high-tech distance-learning terminal that allows San Mar’s Boonsboro-area facility to connect with the state’s rural treatment and youth centers and beyond.

“The whole idea is to bring technology, state-of-the-art technology into rural areas,” said Bruce T. Anderson, chief executive officer of San Mar. “… This is going to open the door for us to collaborate with other agencies and provide a benefit for a much broader community here.”

Installation of motion-sensitive cameras, overhead suspended microphones and four large flat-screen monitors, two each on different ends of a downstairs board room, was completed about a month ago at the group’s administrative building off Mapleville Road.

The highly adaptable equipment provides a wide range of uses for San Mar, but also for the community at large, according to Deputy Director Keith Fanjoy, who said he welcomes inquiries from community partners who may be interested in using the system.

San Mar recently hosted an education seminar for staff with a trauma expert from Charlotte, N.C, who was able to communicate directly with more than 60 people — without leaving her desk in North Carolina.

“It’s similar to Skype . except everything is HIPPA approved,” Anderson said, referring to the federal law protecting the privacy of health care information. “These are secure lines, and so we can allow our psychiatrist or our therapists to do counseling through this. … It really opens up a number of things.”

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The grant, awarded through the Unites States Department of Agriculture, was made possible thanks to qualifying purchase made by the DJS that counted as a local match contribution. San Mar split the proceeds with the state agency, receiving about $215,000 for the videoconferencing system.

San Mar officials traveled to Annapolis on Monday afternoon to formally accept the funding during a USDA event.

The secure system — initially eyed to provide a “therapeutic connection” and convenience for San Mar youth with their families and therapists — allows for direct use on San Mar’s campus.

But it also can be accessed remotely via a laptop or cellphone, making it safe for a variety of different face-to-face communications over the Internet, Fanjoy said.

“We looked at a couple different options … but we ran into serious issues with security concerns and confidentiality concerns,” he said.

“I think this positions Washington County and especially our agency to have access to the best service providers possible, and, of course, the kids who are residents here in foster care, as well, have access to their families more than they ever would have in the past,” Fanjoy said.

Through its various residential programs, San Mar currently serves about 75 youth in therapeutic group-home settings and foster-care services.

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