USDA increases rural telehealth funding

Grants designed to expand the reach of healthcare in underserved areas
By Jessica Davis
09:29 AM
Rural road

U.S. Agriculture Secretary, Tom Vilsack, announced the expansion of the USDA Rural Development's Distance Learning and Telemedicine Program with $23.4 million in additional funding for 75 new projects in 31 states.

Grants may be used to purchase telemedicine educational tools, equipment and services in rural areas and are contingent upon each recipient meeting the grant agreement terms.

[See also: USDA grants to support telemedicine in rural areas]

"Rural communities often lack access to specialized medical care or advanced educational opportunities necessary for stronger rural economies," Vilsack said in a statement.

[See also: Government task force aims to expand health IT to rural areas]

"These grants will help increase access to health care and many other essential services," he added.

Since the program began in 2009, the USDA has provided more than $213 million in grants and loans for 634 distance learning and telemedicine projects in rural areas nationwide.

Funding care in rural Arkansas is one major focus of the USDA program. Baptist Health in Little Rock has received two USDA grants to set-up a critical care network to create an interoperable system between six medical centers. AV equipment allows specialists to virtually make rounds, reaching patients faster.

This year, the North Slope Borough region in Alaska hopes to accomplish the same.

Using their grant of about $420,000, officials will purchase video equipment to link six Native Alaskan clinics, four end-user sites and the Samuel Simmonds Memorial Hospital to increase emergency care, examinations and behavioral health and specialized services.

Alabama Fire College and Personnel Standards Commission will receive a grant of $453,604 to train rural emergency responders.

The Baptist Healthcare System, Inc. in Corbin, Kentucky will use their $182,566 grant for installation of teleconferencing and telehealth equipment throughout their five facilities in rural Kentucky and eastern Tennessee.

The announcement was made on National Rural Health Day to highlight progress in the private sector, academia and state and federal rural health offices in addressing the ever-increasing need to expand telehealth capabilities in rural areas.