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USDA investing over $3M to improve distance learning and telemedicine in Alabama

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced an investment of over $3 million in rural Alabama on Tuesday.

Five Alabama projects related to telemedicine or distance learning will receive a share of the investment, which was publicized by the Department’s Office of Rural Development in Montgomery.

“USDA is helping rural America build back better using technology as a cornerstone to create more equitable communities. With health care and education increasingly moving to online platforms, the time is now to make historic investments in rural America to improve quality of life for decades to come,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack in a release.

Vilsack, once a governor of  Iowa, was President Barack Obama’s Agriculture secretary from 2009-2017. He was confirmed this week to that same position under President Joe Biden. Both of Alabama’s U.S. Senators supported Vilsack’s confirmation.

All projects being funded in Thursday’s announcement are a part of the Agriculture Department’s Distance Learning & Telemedicine Grants program. The organization requesting the grant had to provide a 15% match.

USDA Rural Development provided a summary of each of the projects in Alabama:

In west Alabama, USDA’s investment of $916,948 will be used by the University of Alabama to connect 23 ambulances to seven hospitals in eight different rural counties in west-central Alabama. This network of ambulances will be equipped with telemedicine services to relay patient data to emergency room physicians. This technology will allow emergency room physicians to interact with emergency medical technicians, which will help to provide more efficient care for patients.

In Lauderdale County, USDA’s investment of $245,618 will be used by the Lauderdale County Board of Education to install distance learning systems in Lauderdale County’s elementary and secondary schools, as well as at the Board of Education’s offices. The Board will purchase mobile carts, bridging software and wireless access points to create a remote teaching system. The distance learning system will enable teachers to provide lessons and educational opportunities to more students.

In Clarke, Marengo, Wilcox and Monroe counties, USDA’s investment of $744,150 will be used by Physicians Care of Clarke to create a telehealth system across several regional healthcare systems. Leveraging primary health care sites, school-based health care sites, and administrative sites, rural residents in the region will now have access to primary and specialist physicians. This project will help install telemedicine carts and videoconferencing equipment at each clinic to capture diagnostic information, provide clinical supervision, and consultation services. This will help rural residents who are geographically isolated and have difficulty accessing serving primary and specialty care providers.

In Bibb, Dallas, and Talladega counties, USDA’s investment of $580,308 will be used by the University of Montevallo to establish a telemedicine system to provide access to mental health through its Community Counseling Clinic. Telemedicine end-user units will be installed in high schools in Bibb, Dallas and Talladega counties that will be used to offer telemental health services to students, teachers and community members. The University will also use distance learning equipment to offer distance education for professional educators and instructional leaders, as well as high school students in dual-enrollment courses.

In Bibb, Perry, Chilton, and Jefferson counties, USDA’s investment of $789,150 will be used by the Cahaba Medical Care Foundation for teleconferencing equipment, to offer distance learning for its family medicine residents. This program helps medical school graduates achieve medical licensure or board certification, while applying their skills in rural areas. In addition to educational uses, the equipment will also be used to provide telemedicine services in response to the influx of patients due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: [email protected] or on Twitter @HenryThornton95.

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