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Broadband grant expanding telehealth services in rural Nevada

The USDA recently announced millions of dollars in funding nationwide to support rural broadband and its role in health care, with over $600,000 earmarked for Nevada.

Through the federal grant funding, rural and frontier counties in the Silver State are set to see additional access to health services, something that many Nye County residents, particularly those in the Tonopah area, will rejoice to learn.

“Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue recently awarded $40 million nationwide for 128 Distance Learning Telemedicine (DLT) projects in 40 states,” USDA Rural Development State Director Phil Cowee stated. “Two of those projects were approved here in Nevada, and they will provide access to health care to medically underserved areas in some of our most remote and rural counties for 65,539 people.”

According to USDA Rural Development State Public Affairs representative Kelly Clark, the Nye Regional Medical Center in Tonopah is one of the locations to see expansion of services with the grant funding. Renown Health, which operates a clinic out of the Nye Regional Medical Center, is one of the Nevada awardees. The company worked with the Governor’s Office of Science and Technology to secure $439,312 for its Telehealth and Healthcare Education Expansion Project.

The expansion program, “…will be provided via two metropolitan hub-only sites and 11 medically underserved end-user sites. Each site will receive a telehealth cart/with scoping peripheral devices that enable live, interactive consults via high-definition portals,” a news release from the USDA details. “Primary care, specialty care, acute services, behavioral health care, and substance misuse care and treatment, inclusive of opioid care, will be available. Behavioral and substance abuse care services will be delivered through integrated distance learning classroom centered around video conferencing, HD cameras and 80-inch monitors.”

The release stated that the project will also, “…deliver professional development, health and wellness programs, and enable paramedics in these rural communities to connect to Renown Health acute care facilities to provide emergency care, under the supervision of a physician.”

Residents in rural, underserved areas, including Nye, White Pine, Pershing, Douglas, Lyon, Washoe, Lander and Churchill counties, will benefit from the telehealth expansion.

Nye County Commissioner Lorinda Wichman, who represents the Tonopah area and has been striving to help remedy the medical difficulties that have plagued the central and northern parts of the county for many years, hailed the announcement as wonderful news. “The assistance it provides for health care is paramount,” Wichman said, remarking, “However, for the potential opportunities for every household, it is also of great importance. The infrastructure is all we need to help with education and job connections as well.”

Valley Health LLC was the other awardee, receiving $164,137 in grant funding to provide three years of telehealth services to prison patients at seven Department of Corrections conservation camps in rural areas, including Carlin, Ely, Indian Springs, Jean, Pioche, Tonopah and Wells.

“Lack of providers, clinics and hospitals is a major problem,” Clark responded when asked to name the biggest hurdles for rural health care. She said telehealth was one measure that could be taken to help clear those hurdles. “Where there are providers, there are few specialists. Telehealth can help connect metropolitan specialists to local clinics through a high-definition telehealth portal, saving patient time and travel costs,” Clark said.

For more information on the USDA Rural Development Distance Learning Telemedicine Grant Program go to www.rd.usda.gov

Contact reporter Robin Hebrock at rhebrock@pvtimes.com

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