stethoscope_laptopNearly $5 million in USDA funding for telemedicine and distance learning was announced this week. The agency said it would invest $4.7  in 18 distance learning and telemedicine projects that will provide health care, substance misuse treatment and advanced educational opportunities in 16 states.

“These investments will help provide better health care and educational opportunities for rural residents,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack upon announcing the new investments.

“Hospitals, schools and training centers across the country are successfully using telecommunications to deliver quality educational and medical services. Telemedicine, for example, can help treat patients who are struggling with opioid and other substance use disorders that disproportionately affect rural areas by allowing rural hospitals to connect with resources in other health care facilities across the country to better diagnose and treat individuals.”

Opioid abuse has reached epidemic proportions in the U.S., prompting President Barack Obama to create an inter-agency initiative to address the problem. Obama tapped Vilsack to lead the effort.

Evidence-based prevention programs, prescription drug monitoring, medication-assisted treatment and use of the overdose reversal drug naloxone are among the tools identified as having been successful in reducing drug use and overdose, according to USDA.

Vilsack on Aug. 31 announced an initiative that will provide transitional housing for rural Americans recovering from substance use disorders.

USDA Funding for Telemedicine and Distance Learning
All told, USDA is awarding $4.7 million in Distance Learning and Telemedicine (DLT) program grants to support 11 distance learning and seven telemedicine projects in this new round of grant funding.

Sec. Vilsack announced 80 DLT project awards on July 14. USDA has provided a total $239.5 million to fund 729 DLT projects since the program’s launch in 2009.

USDA’s DLT program administrator the USDA’s Rural Utilities Service (RUS) invests in, promotes and otherwise supports investment in broadband networks, drinking water supplies and wastewater treatment facilities in rural areas nationwide. RUS has helped bring modern broadband access to nearly 6 million rural residents and businesses since 2009.

Since 2009 USDA Rural Development has invested nearly $13 billion to start or expand nearly 112,000 rural businesses, helped nearly 1.1 million rural residents buy homes and funded nearly 9,200 community facilities, including schools, public safety and health care facilities, according to USDA. In addition, it has invested $31.3 billion in 963 rural electricity project that have in turn financed more than 185,000 miles of transmission and distribution lines that serve 4.6 million rural residents.

Image courtesy of flickr user jfcherry.

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