USDA awards 44 rural healthcare organizations with telemedicine grants

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has awarded grants to 44 healthcare organizations to improve access to healthcare in rural areas.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack made the announcement on Tuesday. The 44 healthcare grantees are part of a $34.7 million grant that was made available to 106 projects in 38 states and one territory to fund educational projects and expand access to healthcare services in rural areas through USDA's Distance Learning and Telemedicine Program.

"Too many rural areas cannot take full advantage of the opportunities afforded by broadband for improved education and healthcare," said Vilsack. "These funds will help communities enhance their educational and training programs and deliver improved health care services for their residents."

[See also: Physician shortage drives telemedicine market.]

In Oklahoma, an award of $496,516 to INTEGRIS Health, Inc. will replace outdated systems with modern video teleconferencing equipment throughout this network of 20 rural schools, hospitals and health centers. Links to 11 resource hospitals and physicians offices will provide a variety of health and educational services, such as speech therapy and instruction to students, telestroke services that connect patients with physicians, continuing medical education for healthcare professionals at the hospital sites and a stroke recognition program to train students to recognize the warning signs of stroke and help save lives in their communities.

[See also: California launches nation's largest telehealth network.]

Avera Health, a network of hospitals and clinics serving Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska and the Dakotas, was awarded three grants totaling $1,107,193 through the Distance Learning and Telemedicine Grant Program. The funding will be matched by Avera Health for a combined total of $2,236,449.

"I am pleased that this funding will allow Avera Health to continue offering excellent care to South Dakotans," said Senator Tim Johnson (D-SD). "The USDA grants will improve access to education, training, and healthcare resources in rural parts of the state, reducing barriers to quality care."

The three grants include:

  • The Avera eCare Suites Project will receive a $438,581 grant from USDA with a match amount of $447,418 for a total project amount of $885,979. The funding will go to many communities, including Chamberlain, DeSmet, Pierre and Platte. This grant will provide access to advanced technological programs, which will lead to more efficient and high-quality health care.
  • The Avera Rural Care Project will receive a $447,734 grant from USDA with a match amount of $456,777 for a total project amount of $904,411. Arlington, Brookings, Flandreau, Miller, Platte and Yankton are among the South Dakotan communities that will be served by the grant. The funding will provide access to telehealth services through the purchase of specialized equipment.
  • The Avera eConsult Telemedicine Program will receive a $220,878 grant from USDA with a match amount of $225,061 for a total project amount of $445,939.  The grant will go towards 20 specialty clinics within Sioux Falls, 12 new rural sites, and five existing sites, which require equipment upgrades. This funding aims to increase access to specialty services for rural patients.

"Through telemedicine, Iowans in rural parts of the state can access specialists in their home-communities, instead of traveling to a big city for an appointment," said Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa). "Telemedicine saves patients in rural America time and money."

The 44 grantees are listed on the next page.

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