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USDA Grants $5 Mil to Telemedicine and Distance Learning Programs

This week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced that it would provide $4.7 million through its Distance Learning and Telemedicine (DLT) program to 18 projects spread across 16 states. The overall goal is to bring more medical expertise to underserved rural areas through improved access to health care, and expanded substance misuse treatment. In addition, the funding will offer advanced educational opportunities to local businesses, adults, and teens to help create jobs and boost economic development in rural regions.

As explained by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, “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.”

Last January, President Obama tasked Vilsack with leading an interagency effort to combat the rural opioid epidemic. The USDA has identified several effective tools for reducing drug use and overdose, including prescription drug monitoring, evidence-based prevention programs, and medication-assisted treatment. Last month, Vilsack introduced an initiative which will provide transitional housing for rural Americans during recovery from substance use disorders.

The grant recipients include:

  • The McLeod Regional Medical Center in the Pee Dee region of South Carolina is gaining $420,092 to connect doctors in Florence, S.C., to seven primary and mental health care centers scattered around the state; six of these centers are located in counties that have been identified by the USDA as underserved rural areas.
  • Baxter County Regional Hospital of Arkansas will receive $320,538 for a comprehensive telehealth care management program that will offer remote patient monitoring and a free, 24-hour nurse help line. These enhancements are expected to improve patient case management and health outcomes, as well as reduce visits to the emergency room and unnecessary hospitalizations.
  • The Landon Pediatric Foundation in California has been granted $221,230 to equip rural clinics and hospitals with telemedicine carts that connect with specialists throughout the state. The project will also implement a distance learning certification program for doctors, nurses, and physician’s assistants.
  • Ministry Health Care, located in Wisconsin, is receiving $432,258 to expand an existing telemedicine program; the expansion will connect advanced practice nurse practitioners with physicians.

Since 2009, the USDA has provided nearly $240 million in grants to 729 DLT projects in rural areas across the country.

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