USDA provides funding to increase access to educational and health care services in rural areas

U.S. Department of Agriculture
Farm Forum

Huron, S.D. – On Jan. 19, Assistant to the Secretary for Rural Development Anne Hazlett announced that USDA is awarding grants for broadband projects to increase access to job training, educational and health care services in rural areas in 35 states, including South Dakota.

“These technological advancements are enhancing efficiency and safety in rural communities. Rural areas will have the ability to receive health care consultations remotely by physicians in Sioux Falls which will help save lives,” said Julie Gross, South Dakota USDA Rural Development state director.

USDA is awarding 72 grants totaling $23.6 million through the Distance Learning and Telemedicine (DLT) Grant Program. This program funds equipment that uses broadband to help rural communities connect to advanced learning and specialized medical services.

Here in South Dakota, USDA provided a total of $612,316 for two Avera Health projects as follows:

• Avera Health was awarded $484,271 to help Avera Health implement a telehealth project to enhance labor and delivery and post-partum services for mothers and their babies. The end-user sites are 11 rural hospitals in South Dakota, Iowa and Minnesota. New equipment will be able to monitor a baby’s heart rate, which is a critical indicator of fetal health during the birthing process. When necessary, the baby’s heart rate information can be transported to Avera Health 24 hours a day, where specialists can assist at a critical time for mother and baby. Avera’s Best Beginnings Rural Obstetrics Connections Project will reduce brain damage, permanent injuries and even deaths during difficult pregnancies when something goes wrong and additional help is immediately needed. This project will greatly improve labor and delivery services in rural hospitals by making highly specialized and dedicated specialists available whenever they are needed.

• Avera Health was awarded $128,045 to help Avera Health implement an advanced telehealth project to provide access to telehealth pharmacy services. Avera will connect to end-user sites in Hutchinson and Spink Counties in South Dakota; Osceola, Iowa; and Lincoln, Minnesota with their hub in Minnehaha County, South Dakota. The project will provide telehealth programs with 24-hour pharmacist support for review of medication orders. This is a critical step to prevent medication errors related to allergies, drug interactions and incorrect dosages.

In addition, a $388,988 grant will help the Vermont State Colleges System create a distance learning network to connect Northern Vermont University, comprised of Johnson State College and Lyndon State College, to Sinte Gleska University, Lower Brule Community College and Ihanktonwan Community College in South Dakota and to 28 Vermont high schools. A mix of fixed and mobile video conferencing technology will increase course offerings to students, such as dual-credit college courses. It also will provide increased professional development opportunities for instructors and extend these opportunities to individuals in public service agencies, such as police officers and firefighters.

USDA’s DLT program has a strong record of supporting rural health care and educational programs. For example, in South Dakota, Horizon Health Care, Inc. has used four DLT grants during the last two decades to provide a range of health care services (including mental health) to people living in rural parts of the state. As a result, Horizon now offers preventative care and treatment for opioid addiction. Telemedicine is critical to providing quality care in South Dakota, where more than 40 percent of the population live in rural areas that lack access to critical medical services.

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 services such as schools, public safety and health care; and high-speed internet access in rural areas. For more information, visit