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USDA Invests $42 Million in Distance Learning and Telemedicine Infrastructure

Staff Report

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) today announced it is investing $42.3 million to help rural residents gain access to health care and educational opportunities. The $42.3 million in awards includes $24 million provided through the CARES Act. In total, these investments will benefit 5 million rural residents.

“The expansion of rural education and health care access significantly advances the quality of life for students and residents,” Tennessee Rural Development Acting State Director Dan Beasley said. “Today’s investments will allow citizens in rural areas to benefit from telemedicine and distance learning opportunities that would otherwise not be available.”

East Tennessee State University will use a $121,069 grant to establish a telemedicine system linking five clinics in Hancock, Johnson and Washington counties. The project will provide access to behavioral and substance misuse telehealth counseling. It will also provide primary care and specialty care telemedicine support for patients who are unable to travel to one of seven nurse-managed clinics in the three counties.

A recent report by the Rural Policy Research Institute’s Center for Rural Health Policy Analysis found infection and death rates in rural America due to COVID-19 are 13.4 percent higher than in urban areas. A recent report from USDA’s Economic Research Service, USDA ERS – Rural Residents Appear to be More Vulnerable to Serious Infection or Death From Coronavirus COVID-19, underscored the challenges facing rural Americans amidst the COVID-19 pandemic with even greater detail. Due to a confluence of factors, including higher percentages of underlying conditions, lack of health insurance, and lower access to medical facilities/care than urban counterparts, ERS analysts found rural Americans are suffering more severe illness or death due to COVID-19. Rural Residents Appear to be More Vulnerable to Serious Infection or Death from Coronavirus COVID-19.

The USDA ERS January 2021 report: Rural Residents Appear to be More Vulnerable to Serious Infection or Death from Coronavirus COVID-19. USDA Rural Development provides loans and grants to help expand economic opportunities and create jobs in rural areas. This assistance supports infrastructure improvements; business development; housing; community facilities such as schools, public safety and health care; and high-speed internet access in rural areas.

For more information, visit www.rd.usda.gov/tn.