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TN to get $42M to help rural residents with healthcare, $200K going to Grundy County

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Thursday announced it is investing $42.3 million to help rural residents gain access to health care and educational opportunities. Rural areas are seeing higher infection and death rates related to COVID-19 due to several factors, including a much higher percentage of underlying conditions, difficulty accessing medical care, and lack of health insurance. The $42.3 million in awards includes $24 million provided through the CARES Act. In total, these investments will benefit 5 million rural residents. Tennessee Rural Development Acting State Director Dan Beasley is excited to announce that three projects will receive funding to expand its distance learning and telemedicine opportunities.

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

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.

In Tennessee:
• 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.

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• Grundy County Department of Education will use a $274,768 grant to establish a distance learning program to assist students from grades Pre-Kindergarten to 12th Grade in Grundy County. Services and equipment will be provided to students at all seven schools in the district and will operate as hub/end-user sites. The schools are Coalmont Elementary School and Grundy County High School in Coalmont, North Elementary School in Altamont, Palmer Elementary School in Palmer, Pelham Elementary School in Pelham, Swiss Memorial Elementary School in Gruetli-Laager, and Tracy City Elementary School in Tracy City.

• Hardin County Regional Health Center will use a $296,352 grant to establish a telemedicine system for residents in Hardin, Wayne and McNairy counties. Six hub/end user sites will connect patients to primary care, behavioral health providers and to substance use disorder counselors. Portable telehealth units will link patients in their homes, students in school and people at other community settings to providers at hub sites. These telemedicine services are expected to improve patient safety by reducing their risk of exposure to COVID-19 and by encouraging social distancing.

To learn more about investment resources for rural areas, interested parties should contact their USDA Rural Development state office.

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