USDA awards $14 million to help develop telehealth in 29 states

Twenty-nine states will share in $14 million of new rural grants from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the agency announced this week. The grants will be divided between telehealth programs and distance-learning initiatives.

Telehealth programs will get a little more than half of the funds--about $8.3 million, split between 33 programs. For example, the Low Country Health Care Network will receive almost $323,000 to buy telehealth equipment for its most rural providers, plus to set up a training program for rural providers.

While many of the programs target chronic disease such as diabetes, cardiac conditions, and the like, one interesting program in upstate New York will receive $215,000 to spend on telehealth services specifically for farm workers, focusing on basic services such as eye care, dental care and occupational health.

The big winners in this round of telehalth grants are South Dakota and Wisconsin. South Dakota will receive a whopping $849,000 in two separate grants, while Wisconsin will be handed $545,000 in two grants as well.

Overall the grants are far smaller, though, than those distributed by the USDA late last year, where some states like Maine and Oklahoma received $3 million or more for telehealth efforts.

Regardless of size, though, many of the projects could be hampered by slow expansion of broadband in most rural communities. Officials at one of the biggest grant recipients--Avera Health in South Dakota--complained just a month ago that coverage issues are so bad that hospitals should consider piggy-backing on "old school" technology such as T1 lines already in use by many other businesses in the region.

The American Telemedicine Association, too, has long complained about sluggish government initiatives to improve rural broadband capacity, and the effect is will have, going forward, on telehealth development.

To learn more:
- read the USDA announcement
- check out the list of state grants

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