USDA Helps Rural Communities

The USDA Rural Development https://www.rd.usda.gov program has focused on modernizing the telecommunications infrastructure, identifying support for innovation in rural areas, and showing how the use of telehealth can successfully help treat rural stroke patients.

The rural development program in 2017 provided funding for 34 telecommunications infrastructure projects that will deliver new or improved broadband service to more than 160,000 households and businesses.

The agency in 2017, also financed 67 projects to improve healthcare facilities and services to rural regions by providing more than $563 million in investments. For the first time, USDA was able to partner with rural businesses to help expand broadband access in rural areas with $15 million in loans.

USDA has made progress using telehealth to help stroke patients by developing an extensive telestroke network. The Hospital Sisters Health System’s (HSHS) at St. John’s Hospital received over $320,000 in grant funds through USDA’s Rural Utilities Service Distance Learning and Telemedicine Program (DLT) in 2013.

St John’s Hospital used the grant funds to provide telestroke equipment at six rural hospitals. By May 2015, 14 hospitals had activated robots to enable an off-site neurologist to be able to examine stroke victims, review CT scans, and recommend treatment within minutes of a rural stroke patient’s arrival.

According to the CDC, if tPA a clot-busting drug that helps blood return to the brain is administered within three hours, a stroke victim’s likelihood for full recovery improves and potentially reduces the need for long-term care in a nursing home.

HSHS’s “door-to-needle” goal is to have the patient evaluated and if necessary administered tPA within 60 minutes of arrival. In the 24 months following the activation of the first robots in 2014, HSHS was able to achieve the average door-to-needle time across the hospitals in as little as 29 minutes.

“Anytime a hospital can keep a patient local, it should”, said Julie Edwards the ITN Network Director and Telemedicine Coordinator at HSHS St. John’s Hospital. Records show that over 1,700 emergency room patients in the 14 hospital network have now receive care from a remote neurology specialist.

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