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USDA Telemedicine Grants Target Opioid Abuse

Almost $1.4 million has been pledged to three states for telemedicine programs that focus on mental health and addiction treatment in underserved communities.

By Eric Wicklund

- Federal officials are using telemedicine grants to combat a growing opioid epidemic in three mid-Atlantic and southern states.

About $1.4 million was pledged to five projects in Virginia, Tennessee and Kentucky by U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack during a town hall in Abington, Va. The grants, part of the federal Distance Learning and Telemedicine (DLT) program, will be used to beef up telemedicine programs to reach people in rural Appalachia.

The grants are as follows:

  • In Kentucky, two grants totaling more than $720,000 will be used to create telemedicine programs for mental health and drug addiction treatment. In Corbin, the Baptist Health Foundation will receive more than $377,000 to connect 10 school-based health centers and two primary care sites in underserved areas to clinical specialists. In Whiteside, the Mountain Comprehensive Health Corporation will receive more than $343,000 to expand telemedicine services for residents facing economic and transportation challenges.
  • Virginia will be getting two grants totaling roughly $587,000. Carillon Medical Center is getting a little more than $434,000 to extend telemedicine programs to 18 sites in 12 rural counties in so0uthwest Virginia. And about $153,000 will go to The Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia to create two mobile health units to provide healthcare services, including on-site care and video consults, in 11 community care centers in nine rural counties.
  • In Tennessee, the Carey Counseling Center will receive more than $67,000 to expand and improve six rural counseling centers.

"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 at the town hall, adding that the grants are the first in a series of grants to be announced this summer. "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."

In addition to the grants, the USDA’s Rural Development office is using its Community Facilities and Business and Industry Guaranteed Loan Programs to help rural hospitals and health systems expand access to services, including overdose and opioid addiction treatment.

The USDA has provided more than $213 million in grants to 634 DLT projects since 2009, focusing on rural health and mental health services. The latest grants are the first to target opioid abuse, a national epidemic that President Barack Obama is asking Congress to provide an addition $1.1 billion in funding to combat.

Dig Deeper:

Can mHealth Help Battle Opioid Abuse?

Telehealth Takes the Lead in Addiction Treatment


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