Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced that USDA is investing in 18 projects in 16 states to use communications technology to expand access to healthcare, substance misuse treatment and advanced educational opportunities.
“These investments will help provide better health care and educational opportunities for rural residents,” Vilsack said. “Hospitals, schools and training centers across the country are successfully using telecommunications to deliver quality educational and medical services. Telemedicine, for example, can help treat patients who are struggling with opioid and other substance use disorders that disproportionately affect rural areas by allowing rural hospitals to connect with resources in other health care facilities across the country to better diagnose and treat individuals.”
In January, President Obama tapped Secretary Vilsack to lead an interagency effort focused on the rural opioid epidemic, according to the announcement. Recent efforts have helped identify effective tools to reduce drug use and overdose, including evidence-based prevention programs, prescription drug monitoring, medication-assisted treatment and the overdose reversal drug naloxone. On Aug. 31, Vilsack announced an initiative to provide transitional housing for rural Americans in recovery from substance use disorders.
USDA is awarding $4.7 million in Distance Learning and Telemedicine (DLT) program grants to support 11 distance learning and seven telemedicine projects. These will join the 80 DLT projects USDA announced July 14.
The McLeod Regional Medical Center of Pee Dee, Inc., is receiving a $420,092 grant to connect doctors in Florence, S.C., to seven mental and primary health care centers throughout the state. Six of the centers are in counties served by USDA’s StrikeForce for Rural Growth and Opportunity initiative. Through StrikeForce, USDA staff work with state, local and community officials to increase awareness of and participation in USDA programs and services to help create jobs and promote economic development in rural areas.
In Illinois, the Bushnell-Prairie City District #170 is getting a $313,572 grant to set up a network to provide instruction to 14 middle and high schools in Illinois, Tennessee and Wisconsin. It also will offer vocational training to promote economic growth. Five of the end-user sites are in StrikeForce counties.
Funding for each project announced today is contingent upon the recipient meeting the terms of the grant agreement.
On June 30, the Florence County (S.C.) Commission on Alcohol & Drug Abuse received a $318,218 DLT grant to provide video conferencing equipment to connect health clinics to the Commission’s hub sites. The Commission provides comprehensive prevention, intervention and treatment to citizens in need of alcohol, tobacco and other drug abuse services. The Carilion Medical Center in Roanoke, Va., received a $434,182 DLT grant on July 14 to provide health care, including tele-psychiatry services, to treat opioid misuse in 12 rural counties in southwest Virginia.
USDA Rural Development has provided $239.5 million for 729 DLT projects in rural areas nationwide since 2009. USDA’s Rural Utilities Service, which administers the DLT program, also offers infrastructure programs that bring broadband, safe drinking water and improved wastewater treatment facilities to rural communities.
Since 2009, USDA Rural Development has helped bring high-speed Internet access to nearly 6 million rural residents and businesses; invested nearly $13 billion to start or expand nearly 112,000 rural businesses; helped 1.1 million rural residents buy homes; and funded nearly 9,200 community facilities such as schools, public safety and health care facilities. USDA also has invested $31.3 billion in 963 electric projects that have financed more than 185,000 miles of transmission and distribution lines serving 4.6 million rural residents.