BUFFALO, N.Y. -- People Inc.'s telehealth program already reaches thousands of patients across Western New York and the agency expects the program now to grow substantially.

On Monday, U.S. Rep. Brian Higgins announced $2 million earmarked in the 2023 budget for it.

"We know that access to routine and preventive services is a determining factor to overall health and well-being," Higgins said.

The agency said the program, in partnership with the company Virtual Medical Care, has proven successful. New President Anne McCaffrey said it will target populations that have hurdles with traditional health care access, including vulnerable seniors and people with Alzheimers, people who are deaf and hard of hearing and those with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

"These highly trained nurses and physicians meet virtually face to face, then triage, advise and connect patients to the care that they need. There's no transportation necessary and no need to wait in a waiting room," she said.

McCaffrey said telehealth provides an alternative when in the past, the only option patients had sometimes was to call 911.

"We've analyzed the Virtual Medical Care preliminary performance and we've seen an astounding 30%  reduction in emergency department visits," she said.

Meanwhile, People Inc is also watching the state budget negotiations closely as agencies are hoping for funding to support an 8.5% cost of living adjustment for direct support professionals. Outgoing President Rhonda Frederick stressed the importance of that money too.

"We are incredibly hopeful that the state Legislature that put the money in will keep it in there and be able to provide some of the people that will benefit from telehealth are the same people that we're serving on the other side of the coin here in residential services in day programming and in in-home support so it will help all the way around," Frederick said.