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USDA Awards Grants to Improve Health Care, Education Access in the Oregon Outback

Jill Rees
Release Date
Nov 20, 2014

USDA Rural Development State Director Vicki Walker today announced USDA grant funding to improve the delivery of health care and educational services in remote areas of rural Oregon.  Greater Oregon Behavioral Health, Inc. (GOBHI) and Klamath Community College are slated to receive a total of more than $630,000 through the Distance Learning and Telemedicine (DLT) program.

"These federal investments in rural health and education are crucial to Oregon communities. Increased access to quality, affordable healthcare and education opportunities will help ensure that the economic recovery reaches all corners of our state, and these grants are a validation of the community driven model and local solutions being developed across Oregon," said Governor John Kitzhaber.

GOBHI will receive $436,506 to install a telemedicine network linking patients in rural areas to a full range of health care expertise. Funds will be used to install hardware and software for video conferencing and other technology necessary for specialists to collaborate with rural practitioners and provide services directly to patients in remote locations. Through the project, 32 health care providers operating in 12 rural counties with the Eastern Oregon Coordinated Care Organization and the Columbia Pacific Coordinated Care Organization will be better equipped to provide integrated care to approximately 10,000 patients in areas where a full range of health care services is not readily available.

“Studies show that rural residents have higher rates of a variety of chronic health conditions, which can be amplified by a lack of doctors or clinics in rural communities,” Walker said.  “USDA is working to ensure that rural residents don’t have to forego healthcare because of where they live, or be forced to leave the communities they love to get the care they need.”

The GOBHI project aims to integrate health care in rural Oregon counties and improve health services for vulnerable populations. Almost 100 partners representing physical health, behavioral health, addictions, community groups, elected officials, tribal members, and technology agencies came together to create and support the GOBHI application. These funds will significantly improve access to services for patients, increase consultation between providers, and broaden training opportunities for providers in isolated areas. Through the project, services will be enhanced for patients in the following rural Oregon counties: Gilliam, Grant, Harney, Lake, Morrow, Sherman, Umatilla (Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation), Union, Wallowa, Clatsop, Columbia, Tillamook.

Walker also announced a USDA grant of $194,053 to help Klamath Community College (KCC) provide college-level courses to Lake County residents. The funds will support installation of advanced communications technology providing live, real time video connections allowing KCC instructors to deliver college courses to students in five Lake County locations: the Innovation and Learning Center (ILC), Lake District Hospital, Lakeview High School, Paisley Public Charter School, and North Lake High School.

The ILC has been providing some access distance learning education since September 2013.  The program began with 26 students, and participation doubled the following year. The USDA Rural Development funds will expand the technology to additional sites and allow for participation by more than 100 students by the end of 2015.

Dual credit opportunities through the program will allow all Lake County high school students to complete over 20 percent of their college credits by the time of graduation and dramatically reduce college tuition costs.  The ILC will also be able to offer high school students one year of college education at no cost.

In addition, all Lake County residents interested in completing college courses, certificates or degrees will have access to programs that help them meet their educational and career goals.  Due to a local need for qualified nurses, course offerings are initially focused on the Licensed Practical Nursing (LPN) and pre-nursing programs at Lake District Hospital. “Rural communities often struggle to provide access to post-secondary education, workforce and entrepreneurial training necessary to attract or nurture business and economic development,” Walker said. “This project is a proactive step toward alleviating such issues in this remote part of the state.”

Through the DLT program, USDA has helped hundreds of rural communities across the nation deliver care in remote areas since it began two decades ago. Today, USDA Rural Development is awarding a total of $20.4 million in grants that will provide rural Americans access to medical services, improve educational opportunities, and support Native American communities. A full listing of Fiscal Year 2014 Distance Learning and Telemedicine Grant recipients nationwide is available online.

In his nationwide announcement today, which coincides with National Rural Health Day, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced over $10 million in grants through two USDA programs to improve access to health care for rural Americans across the country.

In addition to the DLT awards, USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) is awarding 12 grants totaling more than $1.4 million to universities aimed at enhancing the quality of life in rural areas through improved health and safety education efforts.

With today’s announcements, Secretary Vilsack encouraged rural Americans to take advantage of the Health Insurance Marketplace created by the Affordable Care Act and discussed the health care reform law’s specific benefits for rural communities.

The Affordable Care Act also invests significantly in expanding services at community health centers, where 7.5 million rural Americans get access to primary and preventive care. That comes on top of the more than $3 billion USDA has invested since 2009 to strengthen health infrastructure in rural areas, building rural hospitals and health clinics and expanding access to health care in remote rural areas through telemedicine.