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USDA Invests Over $1.6 Million in the Expansion of Rural Education and Health Care

Tammi Schone
Release Date

Huron, SD, Nov. 20, 2019 – U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Development South Dakota State Director Julie Gross today announced that USDA is investing $1,664,940 for five projects in rural communities. USDA is providing the funding through the Distance Learning and Telemedicine (DLT) grant program. These investments will benefit over 729,000 rural residents in Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota, and South Dakota.


“USDA is committed to being a partner in building strong communities,” said Gross.  “The funding will be used for cutting-edge technology, allowing rural residents to remain in their communities for healthcare, and improving educational opportunities that will increase operating efficiencies, and save lives. When rural America thrives, all of America thrives.”


The projects funded include:

  • Oglala Lakota College will receive $499,999 to upgrade and expand a distance learning system. New equipment will be installed at ten locations in the Pine Ridge and Cheyenne River Reservations in Bennett, Dewey and Oglala Lakota counties in South Dakota.  The project will improve educational opportunities for an estimated 11,000 residents.
  • Horizon Health Care, Inc. will receive $223,542 to purchase desktop telemedicine videoconferencing units. The project service area includes one hub site and 18 end-user sites in 15 South Dakota counties. The system will allow provision of behavioral health and substance abuse services to rural patients.  The service area includes a population of 19,000.   
  • Avera Health will receive $390,459 to enable them to provide medical specialists across all specialties to approximately 635,000 patients spanning 73 sites, across 35 counties in the four-state area of South Dakota, southwest Minnesota, northwest Iowa, & northeast Nebraska.  RD investments will bring interactive video and computer equipment for telemedicine consultations with specialty care providers in the medically underserved four-state rural region. 
  • Avera Health will receive $454,960 to enable the Rural Emergency Access and Support Project to obtain telemedicine equipment for 35 rural facilities in South Dakota, North Dakota, and Minnesota. The equipment will improve health care access for 64,000 residents of 35 counties and will allow medical personnel access to educational training. Interactive video teleconferencing equipment will allow rural sites to connect to the Avera eCARE Emergency Service network for real-time assistance from board-certified emergency medicine specialists.
  • Lewis & Clark Behavioral Health Services will receive $95,980 to enable them to create a rural telemedicine network at 24 schools in 10 South Dakota counties.  Hub sites will be in Yankton and Winner. Staff member travel time will be reduced.

Gross’ announcement is in coordination with the recent announcement made by USDA Deputy Under Secretary for Rural Development Donald “DJ” LaVoy who announced that USDA is investing $42.5 million in 133 distance learning and telemedicine projects in 37 states and two U.S. territories.


Applicants eligible for Distance Learning and Telemedicine grants include most State and local governmental entities, federally-recognized tribes, nonprofits, for-profit businesses and consortia of eligible entities.


In April 2017, President Donald J. Trump established the Interagency Task Force on Agriculture and Rural Prosperity to identify legislative, regulatory and policy changes that could promote agriculture and prosperity in rural communities. In January 2018, Secretary Perdue presented the Task Force’s findings to President Trump. These findings included 31 recommendations to align the federal government with state, local and tribal governments to take advantage of opportunities that exist in rural America. Supporting the rural workforce was a cornerstone recommendation of the task force.


To view the report in its entirety, please view the Report to the President of the United States from the Task Force on Agriculture and Rural Prosperity (PDF, 5.4 MB). In addition, to view the categories of the recommendations, please view the Rural Prosperity infographic (PDF, 190 KB).


USDA Rural Development provides loans and grants to help expand economic opportunities and create jobs in rural areas. This assistance supports infrastructure improvements; business development; housing; community facilities such as schools, public safety and health care; and high-speed internet access in rural areas. For more information, visit www.rd.usda.gov.