ABINGDON – Governor Terry McAuliffe today announced Virginia will receive more than $587,000 in Distance Learning and Telemedicine grants through the USDA to improve rural health care services, with a focus on mental health and drug addiction treatment.
The DLT grant program is intended to help improve access to health care in rural areas by funding telemedicine equipment. The program also works to provide access to education opportunities through teleconferencing equipment.
Carilion Medical Center will receive $434,182 to help deliver health care in 12 counties in Southwest Virginia. The University of Virginia will use a $153,082 grant to invest in a system that will help provide access to care at 11 rural community care centers. Two mobile health units will also canvass six of those counties to provide on-site care and telemedicine video conferencing capabilities with doctors and specialists.
Several of the affected counties are also designated under USDA’s StrikeForce Initiative for Rural Growth and Opportunity, founded in 2010 to address the specific challenges associated with rural poverty. In Virginia, 51 counties are StrikeForce counties.
“Our mountain regions are a beautiful part of our state, but those very mountains can make it more difficult for people to get to health care providers,” said Governor Terry McAuliffe. “These grants help advance telemedicine projects that will make it easier for our rural residents to speak to health care providers and access care without driving such long distances.”
The Virginia grant was part of $1.4 million in grants for five projects in Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee, unveiled Thursday by U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack during a visit to Abingdon to discuss the epidemic of opioid and heroin abuse. The grants are intended to help those states address the opioid epidemic. In January, President Obama asked Secretary Vilsack, who is chair of the White House Rural Council, to lead a federal interagency effort focused on rural opioid use.
"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," said U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. "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."
Vilsack also announced grants for Kentucky and Tennessee. This was the first in a round of DLT grants from the USDA expected this summer.
In 2014, Governor McAuliffe established the Governor’s Task Force on Prescription Drugs and Heroin Abuse, and the Commonwealth is implementing a series of recommendations supported by the panel. This year, the administration won legislative support for state laws that strengthen Virginia’s Prescription Monitoring Program by requiring doctors and dispensers to report opioid prescriptions within 24 hours (previously the deadline was one week) and directing doctors to check the opioid database any time they approve an opioid prescription lasting for more than 14 days.
The Governor also won support last year for a law that ensures law enforcement officers and first responders have access to and the ability to use the overdose-reversing drug Naloxone to save lives. Recognizing the problems this epidemic has caused in the region, the administration hosted an Appalachian opioid summit last fall that included representatives of six Appalachian states working together across borders to find solutions to this challenge.