Washington, DC - Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) will fund 81 Distance Learning and Telemedicine (DLT) projects in 32 states. These projects will help connect rural communities with medical and educational experts in other parts of the country, increasing access to health care, substance misuse treatment and advanced educational opportunities.

"Using technology for educational opportunities and medical care can provide services that are often unavailable in rural areas," Vilsack said. "USDA's Distance Learning and Telemedicine Program helps communities better meet the needs of their residents. For example, opioid and other substance misuse disproportionately affect rural areas, and telemedicine is proving to be an effective tool for treating patients when experts otherwise would be unavailable. Hospitals, schools and training centers across the country are successfully using telecommunications to deliver specialized care to area residents, and we are proud to bring these capabilities to 81 additional communities."

USDA is awarding $23.4 million in grants to support 45 distance learning and 36 telemedicine projects.

Some of the awards will help communities provide services to address opioid misuse, a problem that is especially prevalent in rural areas. Secretary Vilsack is leading an interagency effort to address the rural opioid crisis. On June 30, Vilsack hosted a town hall meeting in Abingdon, Va., to address how the crisis is affecting rural America and parts of Appalachia, and while there he announced funding for five DLT projects in rural Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia to respond to the issue.

One of the recipients announced today, the Southern Hills Counseling Center in Jasper, Ind., will receive a $73,000 grant to implement a telemedicine system to improve the availability of mental health services in several remote Indiana counties. The network will give health care professionals the ability to connect in real time with urban-based mental health specialists. Additionally, the counseling center will be able to connect to rural hospitals that serve this isolated community, providing psychiatric diagnoses and support for hospital emergency departments.

In Chippewa Falls, Wis., the Cooperative Educational Service Agency No. 10 has been selected to receive $134,000 to extend distance learning capabilities to students at 12 rural K-12 schools in west-central Wisconsin. This project builds upon a USDA-funded distance learning network connecting rural schools in Wisconsin with those serving the Kenaitze Indian Tribe in Alaska. The schools share teacher resources and educational content, and provide access to classes from Chippewa Valley Technical College in Eau Claire, Wis.

In Marietta, Ohio, Marietta Memorial Hospital has been selected to receive a $185,000 grant to provide telemedicine services to rural areas in southeastern Ohio and northwestern West Virginia. The hospital plans to create the first telemedicine system in the region, which has high rates of poverty, shortages of health care providers, and high rates of heart disease, lung cancer and other chronic diseases. The project will link 14 hospitals and clinics, including facilities in counties designated for special aid through USDA's StrikeForce for Rural Growth and Opportunity Initiative.

USDA Rural Development has provided $213 million for 634 DLT projects in rural areas nationwide since 2009. USDA's Rural Utilities Service, which administers the DLT program, also offers infrastructure programs that bring broadband, safe drinking water and improved wastewater treatment facilities to rural communities.

Since 2009, USDA Rural Development has helped bring high-speed Internet access to nearly 6 million rural residents and businesses; invested $31.3 billion in 963 electric projects that have financed more than 185,000 miles of transmission and distribution lines serving 4.6 million rural residents; helped 1.1 million rural residents buy homes; and funded nearly 7,000 community facilities such as schools, public safety and health care facilities. USDA also has invested $11 billion to start or expand 103,000 rural businesses. For more information, visit www.usda.gov/results.