Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced five Distance Learning and Telemedicine (DLT) grant awards to help provide treatment for the growing opioid epidemic in rural central Appalachia. Vilsack made the announcement as he hosted a town hall in Abingdon to address the opioid crisis in rural America, the first in a series. In January, President Obama tasked Secretary Vilsack, who is chair of the White House Rural Council, with leading a federal interagency effort focused on rural opioid use.
"Because addiction treatment is often out of reach for many in rural America, expanding access to telemedicine is an important step towards making sure rural communities have the tools they need to fight the opioid epidemic," Vilsack said. "USDA is committed to provide the critical resources rural areas need to reduce the staggering increase in opioid overdose deaths that is driving up health care costs and devastating communities."
Today's announcement is the first part of a new round of DLT projects that are to be announced this summer and includes nearly $1.4 million for five projects in Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia to help rural areas address the opioid epidemic.
In Kentucky, USDA approved two applications of over $720,000 to establish telemedicine networks that will provide treatment for medical conditions, including mental health and drug addiction treatment.
USDA awarded The Baptist Health Foundation Corbin, Inc. a $377,121 grant that will help connect clinical specialists to ten school-based health centers and two primary care sites. This project will provide mental, behavioral and psychiatric care services in high poverty StrikeForce areas and Kentucky's southeastern Promise Zone. The StrikeForce and Promise Zone initiatives are part of the Obama Administration and USDA's efforts to target investments to areas of persistent economic hardship.
In Whitesburg, Kentucky USDA awarded the Mountain Comprehensive Health Corporation a grant of $343,600 to provide a telemedicine network that allows greater access to primary and behavioral health care for those facing transportation and economic challenges, some of which are Promise Zone counties.
In Tennessee, USDA awarded a grant of $67,572 to the Carey Counseling Center to expand and improve six rural counseling centers with mental, behavioral and psychiatric care services and substance treatment services. This project will serve two StrikeForce Counties.
USDA awarded over $587,000 to Virginia telemedicine projects that will provide health care services in rural areas, including mental health and drug addiction treatment. A grant of $434,182 will help the Carilion Medical Center deliver health care in 12 rural counties in southwest Virginia, including 18 sites—15 of which are in StrikeForce counties. A $153,082 grant will help the Rectors and Visitors of the University of Virginia invest in an advanced system to provide 11 rural community care centers with access to care that will serve 9 StrikeForce Counties. Two mobile health units will canvass 6 of these counties to provide on-site care and telemedicine video conferencing with doctors and specialists.
In addition to DLT investments, USDA Rural Development has funded rural hospitals and health care clinics from its Community Facilities, and Business and Industry Guaranteed Loan Programs. These projects provide communities with much-needed services to help address health care, including overdose and opioid addiction.
Throughout his administration, President Obama has made clear that addressing the opioid overdose epidemic is a priority and has highlighted tools that are effective in reducing drug use and overdose, like evidence-based prevention programs, prescription drug monitoring, prescription drug take-back events, medication-assisted treatment and the overdose reversal drug naloxone. The President submitted a budget proposal and continues to call on Congress to provide $1.1 billion in new funding to help every American with an opioid use disorder who wants treatment get the help they need. Under the President's current proposal, Kentucky could receive $18 million, Tennessee could receive $24 million, and Virginia could receive $17 million over 2 years to expand access to treatment.
Since 2009, USDA Rural Development has provided more than $213 million in grants for 634 DLT projects in rural areas nationwide, many providing mental health treatment. Since 2009, USDA Rural Development has provided $336 million through Business & Industry program loan guarantees for 80 healthcare-related projects in rural America. Since fiscal year 2014, USDA Rural Development has invested $235 million in Community Facilities program funds for mental health facilities in rural America.
Since 2009, USDA Rural Development has invested $31.3 billion in 963 electric projects that have financed more than 185,000 miles of transmission and distribution lines serving 4.6 million rural residents. USDA also has invested $11 billion to start or expand 103,000 rural businesses; helped 1.1 million rural residents buy homes; funded nearly 7,000 community facilities such as schools, public safety and health care facilities; and helped bring high-speed Internet access to nearly 6 million rural residents and businesses. For more information, visit www.usda.gov/results.