In conjunction with National Rural Health Day yesterday, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced that the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is investing $23.4 million in distance learning and telemedicine projects in rural areas.
The grants, which will fund 75 projects across 31 states, are being provided through USDA Rural Development’s Distance Learning and Telemedicine program and may be used by the recipients to purchase equipment to provide educational and telemedicine services to rural communities.
“Rural communities often lack access to specialized medical care or advanced educational opportunities necessary for stronger rural economies," Vilsack said in a statement. "These grants will help increase access to healthcare and many other essential services."
According to the USDA, one of the grant recipients, the North Slope Borough in Alaska, is receiving a $420,000 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 grant recipient, the Corbin, Ky.-based Baptist Healthcare System, Inc. will install teleconferencing and telehealth equipment for five facilities in medically underserved areas in rural southeastern Kentucky and east Tennessee.
USDA said the awards were 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 healthcare needs of rural communities.
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.