FCC urged to reconsider narrowing of 'rural hospital' definition

Three entities serving healthcare or handling healthcare data are among the final 14 recipients of Department of Commerce stimulus funding to increase broadband access and adoption in underserved communities.

According to iHealthBeat, Adams County (Colo.) Communications Center will set up a broadband network for first responders with its $12.1 million in grant money. Connect Arkansas has received $3.7 million from the Commerce Department to support telehealth training programs, while the Los Angeles Regional Interoperable Communications Systems Authority has won $154.6 million in funding to establish a wireless network for public safety to to track patients and transmit healthcare data among providers in the area.

The entire grant program totals $4 billion for 233 projects, serving 24,000 "community anchor institutions," according to a Commerce press release. Of those institutions, approximately 3,000 have healthcare missions, and 5,000 are public-safety entities.

Meanwhile, The Hill reports that Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) has asked the Federal Communications Commission to reconsider a 2004 decision that narrowed the definition of a rural hospital to a facility that serves no more than 25,000 people from a previous classification that included service areas of up to 50,000 people. In a letter to the agency, Nelson said that the rule change will make four hospitals in his home state ineligible for $230,000 a year in federal funding to install and maintain broadband networks.

Nelson would like the FCC to "grandfather" the four hospitals under the old rules, saying that Nebraska's Statewide Telehealth Network has saved Nebraska hospitals $1.8 million by reducing travel time and mileage expenses to deliver services to rural areas.

"Rural Nebraskans and the hospitals that serve them rely on telehealth services tremendously," Nelson wrote to the agency. "I've heard from medical professionals in Nebraska who give examples of how rural telehealth services allow them to monitor patients remotely and provide specialized services across the state. Furthermore, since many rural Nebraska hospitals share statewide telehealth network infrastructure, when one hospital loses funding, they all pay the price."

To learn more:
- read this iHealthBeat news summary about the Commerce grants
- view the list of grants in this Commerce Department press release
- take a look at this post from The Hill's "Hillicon Valley" blog
- see Nelson's letter to the FCC