Proving the Business Case for the Internet of Things

USDA earmarks $23.4m funding for telemedicine projects

Steve Rogerson
July 26, 2016
The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) is to spend $23.4m funding 81 distance-learning and telemedicine (DLT) projects in 32 states. These projects will help connect rural communities with medical and educational experts in other parts of the country, increasing access to health care, substance misuse treatment and advanced educational opportunities.
"Using technology for educational opportunities and medical care can provide services that are often unavailable in rural areas," said agriculture secretary Tom Vilsack. "USDA's DLT programme helps communities better meet the needs of their residents. For example, opioid and other substance misuse disproportionately affect rural areas, and telemedicine is proving to be an effective tool for treating patients when experts otherwise would be unavailable.”
He said hospitals, schools and training centres across the country were successfully using telecommunications to deliver specialised care to area residents.
“We are proud to bring these capabilities to 81 additional communities," he said.
USDA is awarding $23.4m in grants to support 45 distance-learning and 36 telemedicine projects.
Some of the awards will help communities provide services to address opioid misuse, a problem that is especially prevalent in rural areas. Vilsack is leading an interagency effort to address the rural opioid crisis. Last month, he hosted a town hall meeting in Abingdon, Virginia, to address how the crisis is affecting rural America and parts of Appalachia, and while there he announced funding for five DLT projects in rural Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia.
One of the recipients, the Southern Hills Counseling Center in Jasper, Indiana, will receive a $73,000 grant to implement a telemedicine system to improve the availability of mental health services in several remote Indiana counties. The network will give health care professionals the ability to connect in real time with urban-based mental health specialists. Additionally, the counselling centre will be able to connect to rural hospitals that serve this isolated community, providing psychiatric diagnoses and support for hospital emergency departments.
In Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin, the Cooperative Educational Service Agency No 10 has been selected to receive $134,000 to extend distance-learning capabilities to students at 12 rural K-12 schools in west-central Wisconsin. This project builds upon a USDA-funded distance-learning network connecting rural schools in Wisconsin with those serving the Kenaitze Indian Tribe in Alaska. The schools share teacher resources and educational content, and provide access to classes from Chippewa Valley Technical College in Eau Claire, Wisconsin.
In Marietta, Ohio, Marietta Memorial Hospital has been selected to receive a $185,000 grant to provide telemedicine services to rural areas in south-eastern Ohio and north-western West Virginia. The hospital plans to create the first telemedicine system in the region, which has high rates of poverty, shortages of health care providers, and high rates of heart disease, lung cancer and other chronic diseases. The project will link 14 hospitals and clinics, including facilities in counties designated for special aid through USDA's StrikeForce for Rural Growth & Opportunity initiative.
USDA Rural Development has provided $235m for 713 DLT projects in rural areas nationwide since 2009. USDA's Rural Utilities Service, which administers the DLT programme, also offers infrastructure programmes 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 six million rural residents and businesses; invested $31.3bn in 963 electric projects that have financed more than 300,000km of transmission and distribution lines serving 4.6 million rural residents; helped 1.1 million rural residents buy homes; and funded nearly 7000 community facilities such as schools, public safety and health care facilities. The USDA also has invested $11bn to start or expand 103,000 rural businesses.