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USDA awards $2.8 million to expand Georgia telemedicine, distance learning


Posted on Oct 14, 2020 at 0:00 AM

On Oct. 7, the USDA announced $72 million in grants to help rural residents gain access to health care and educational opportunities. Of this total, $2.8 million is awarded for four distance learning and telemedicine expansion projects in rural Georgia. Funding comes from the Distance Learning & Telemedicine Program which helps rural residents tap into the enormous potential of modern telecommunications and the Internet.

“I already knew the need for broadband in Rural Georgia and had been working to provide resources to rural areas and promote USDA’s Rural Development broadband opportunities.  We were making headway,” said USDA Rural Development State Director Joyce White.” However, when COVID-19 hit, the need for broadband was made even more critical.  Students need to be able to learn without attending in-person classes and doctors need to be able to reach rural patients without the patients coming into the office or hospital. People need to be able to reach their customers and offices without getting in their car.  COVID-19 proved further what we already knew and that is E-connectivity is not a luxury, but rather a necessity.”

The grants awarded to Georgia projects:

• Augusta University $576,035 for Telemedicine - This money will be used to assist primary care providers in rural clinics for transmitting images of patient lesions to dermatologists at hub sites in 15 Georgia counties. This improved capability will expand access to quality healthcare and serve to expedite diagnosis and treatment plans. The hub sites will be located in Appling, Baker, Burke, Calhoun, Candler, Dooly, Dougherty, Evans, Jefferson, Lee, Montgomery, Richmond, Screven, Terrell and Treutlen counties.

• Northeast Georgia Health System $794,881 for Telemedicine - This money will be used to expand medical services provided by The Medical Foundation, Inc. dba Northeast Georgia Health System (NGHS) physicians to patients from eight rural counties in northeast Georgia. These rural residents are often located hours away from primary, urgent, and specialty care. NGHS Foundation will purchase Telehealth carts which will be equipped to enable video and audio communication that will allow doctors to connect with remote patients in real time for consultation visits.  This will result in an increase in workflow and increase in access and timeliness to care. Services will be available to residents in Barrow, Dawson, Gwinnett, Hall, Lumpkin, Rabun, Stephens, White counties.

• Taylor County Board of Education $570,050 for Distance Learning - This money will allow the Taylor County Board of Education to equip interactive distance learning rooms at eight different schools in both Taylor and Cook counties. This new capability will provide student access to additional course offerings in language and math, virtual field trips, and increased access to counselors and advisors in order to prepare students for a high-tech future.

• UGA Research Foundation Inc. $866,030 for Telemedicine - This money will be used to improve the management of chronic health conditions in rural residents of nine communities in Central Georgia through partnership between the UGA, Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance (IMA), and Georgia Union Missionary Baptist Association (GUMBA). Faculty members and students will have access to videoconferencing technology to provide patient counseling, wellness checks, healthcare education, and outreach to underserved communities. These services will be available in Ben Hill, Clarke (hub site – UGA), Dooly, Houston, Macon, Pulaski and Sumter counties and cities/towns are involved in the project: Americus, Athens (hub site – UGA), Elko, Fitzgerald, Hawkinsville, Leslie, Montezuma, Vienna, and Unadilla).

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