WASHINGTON – On Friday, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced that USDA is investing $23.4 million in 75 projects across 31 states and the Western Pacific to expand distance learning and telemedicine opportunities in rural areas.
“Rural communities often lack access to specialized medical care or advanced educational opportunities necessary for stronger rural economies,” Vilsack said, noting that today is National Rural Health Day. “These grants will help increase access to health care and many other essential services.”
The grants are being provided through USDA Rural Development’s Distance Learning and Telemedicine program. They may be used to purchase equipment to provide educational and telemedicine services to rural communities.
One of the recipients, the North Slope Borough (Alaska), is receiving a $420,027 grant to purchase video equipment to link six Native Alaskan clinics, four end-user sites and Samuel Simmonds Memorial Hospital. The project will increase access to emergency medical care, examinations, and behavioral health and specialized services.
Another recipient, the Baptist Healthcare System, Inc. in Corbin, will receive a $182,566 grant to install teleconferencing and telehealth equipment for five facilities in medically underserved areas in rural southeastern Kentucky and east Tennessee.
“Increased access to quality health care is critical for improving the quality of health for many rural Kentuckians, including those in the Southeast Kentucky Promise Zone,” said Thomas G. Fern, state director for USDA Rural Development in Kentucky. “The funds announced today will extend the effort by USDA to improve the quality of life in rural Kentucky.”
The awards are being announced on National Rural Health Day to highlight work underway in the private sector, academia and in state and federal rural health offices to address the unique health care needs of rural communities.
The Alabama Fire College and Personnel Standards Commission is receiving a $453,604 grant to provide emergency services training for rural emergency responders. Oklahoma’s Redlands Community College will use a $481,401 grant to increase educational opportunities and workforce development for 29 sites, including 19 Tribal schools and three high schools. The high schools are in a county served by USDA’s StrikeForce for Rural Growth and Opportunity Initiative. Through StrikeForce, USDA leverages resources and collaborates with partners and stakeholders to improve economic opportunities and the quality of life in communities that need its services the most.
Funding of each award announced today is contingent upon the recipient meeting the terms of the grant agreement.
Since 2009, USDA has provided more than $213 million in loans and grants for 634 distance learning and telemedicine projects in rural areas nationwide.
One of the projects USDA has funded through a Distance Learning and Telemedicine grant is improving medical care in rural Arkansas. Baptist Health received two USDA grants to establish a critical care network connecting six rural medical centers to a hospital in Little Rock. High-resolution audio and video equipment enables teams of specialists in Little Rock to conduct virtual rounds in participating hospitals. This technology enables rural patients to receive specialty care significantly sooner than they might otherwise.
President Obama’s plan for rural America has brought about historic investment and resulted in stronger rural communities. Under the President’s leadership, these investments in housing, community facilities, businesses and infrastructure have empowered rural America to continue leading the way – strengthening America’s economy, small towns and rural communities.