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USDA invests $23m in e-connectivity

Grants will help restore rural prosperity by providing training and health care services.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is investing in e-connectivity, which will provide virtual access to job training, educational and health care opportunities for rural communities.

Under the leadership of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, "USDA is committed to being a strong partner in creating rural prosperity,” said Anne Hazlett, assistant to the secretary for rural development. “Connecting rural Americans to quality education and health care services is an innovative and important tool in our efforts to facilitate economic growth, job creation and quality of life in rural America.”

USDA is awarding 72 grants totaling $23.6 million through the Distance Learning & Telemedicine (DLT) Grant Program. This program invests in equipment that uses broadband to help rural communities connect to educational and health care services. These vital services are part of the foundation of a high quality of life and enable communities to overcome the effects of remoteness and low population density by connecting them to the rest of the world through high-speed internet.

The grants are supporting projects based in Alaska, Alabama, Arizona, California, Colorado, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, Washington and West Virginia.

Several recipients will use the grants to help address two of the nation’s most urgent needs: opioid abuse treatment and mental health counseling. USDA recognizes that modernizing health care access for such recovery resources is vital to addressing rural prosperity.

For example, in Colorado, Lincoln Community Hospital & Nursing Home is receiving a $265,622 grant to establish a telemedicine network between hospitals and clinics that serve more than 20,000 residents in Adams, Cheyenne, Kit Carson, Lincoln and Phillips counties of Colorado. Improved medical services include behavioral health, postoperative care and care management for chronic conditions. Mobile clinics will provide medical services at patients' homes and will provide access to specialty care and tele-stroke services. Additionally, the telemedicine connections will help emergency departments at Lincoln Memorial Hospital’s behavioral health providers assess behavioral health issues more rapidly and move patients in crisis out of the departments and into more appropriate care settings.

Southern Tier Health Care Systems Inc. in Olean, N.Y., is receiving a $132,899 grant to deploy telecommunications equipment to help train and certify emergency responders dealing with opioid overdoses. Southern Tier will connect to four end-user sites in Salamanca, Cuba, Franklin and Gerry counties. The project will support education for emergency response personnel at the Allegany Indian Reservation Volunteer Fire Department and at community service agencies in Allegany, Cattaraugus and Chautauqua counties.

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