As we celebrate National Rural Health Day this year, we are reminded that a strong community is rooted in its people. The Biden-Harris Administration is committed to serving those who live in the rural areas of this country, like the small towns and communities right here in Mississippi. At the United States Department of Agriculture, we are hard at work offering the resources to the rural and agricultural communities that feed and fuel our nation and provide the everyday essentials upon which America depends.
As I’ve traveled across Mississippi, I’ve seen firsthand the unique challenges people in rural communities, many like the one where I grew up, have in accessing the health resources they need and deserve. These challenges are especially true for people living in our nation’s Tribal communities who have been underserved for far too long.
At USDA Rural Development, we are committed to making sure that people, no matter where they live, have access to high-quality and reliable health care services like urgent care, primary care, and dental care. That’s why I've been a proud champion of programs like the Emergency Rural Health Care Grants, which was created by President Biden’s historic legislative package, the American Rescue Plan Act.
In the last year, this program has helped rural health care organizations across the state purchase supplies, deliver food assistance, renovate health care facilities, and provide people with reliable medical testing and treatment.
For example, in Pike County the Southwest Mississippi Regional Medical Center was impacted significantly by the COVID-19 pandemic, facing unprecedented staffing shortages, supply chain deficiencies, and patient surges. They were able to use funds from the Emergency Rural Health Care Grant program to assist with reimbursement of lost health-related revenue, which will allow them to continue providing access to essential services and expand capabilities like testing services in the area.
We also know that increasing access to telemedicine and distance learning in rural Mississippi is critical to building healthier and more resilient communities.
People in remote parts of the state often need to travel greater distances to see a health care provider, are less likely to have access to high-speed internet to utilize telehealth services and are more likely to live in an area that has a shortage of doctors, dentists, and mental health providers.
Through programs like the Distance Learning and Telemedicine Grants Program, we are making it easier for people living in rural areas to access health care services remotely.
The Delta Health Center used funding from our Distance Learning and Telemedicine program to provide access to the full range of healthcare services through telemedicine visits with patients throughout the service area from its 10 Hub/End User sites located in Delta Health Center clinics across its five-county service area in the Mississippi Delta. Emphasis will be placed on substance use and behavioral health services, but this funding will also increase effective communication and consultation among providers both internally and externally, while providing learning opportunities for medical residency students, improved engagement with faculty in team huddles, and improved coordination and communication regarding medical residency clinical rotations.
Health is about much more than medical care. Access to modern, reliable water and wastewater infrastructure is a critical necessity for the health and well-being of every American.
In Mississippi, we continue to work hand-in-hand with our partners and local community leaders to promote a healthy community and environment through our Water and Environmental Programs.
These programs help rural communities obtain the technical assistance and capital financing necessary to develop clean and reliable drinking water and waste disposal systems. Safe drinking water and sanitary waste disposal systems are vital not only to public health, but also to the economic vitality of rural America
Through these programs, we make sure people, children and families across the state have clean water and safe sewer systems that prevent pollution and runoff.
In Oktibbeha County, the Oktoc Water Association used funding from our Water and Waste Disposal Loan and Grant Program to install two new treatment facilities and make necessary improvements to the distribution system that will allow the water to be adequately distributed and install new radio read meters. This investment will ensure local communities have a safe, reliable source of water and avoid cost overages, saving consumers money.
USDA Rural Development is a partner who invests in keeping rural people healthy. Join us this National Rural Health Day, Thursday, Nov. 17 as we celebrate the power of rural.
You can learn more about our programs by visiting our website or by calling (601) 965-4316.