HHS Awards $4 Million For Rural Telehealth

Grants are part of $32 million the Department of Health and Human Services has allocated in 2010 for improving healthcare in underserved areas of the country.

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The Department of Health and Human Services has announced that more than $32 million in FY 2010 funds will go toward efforts to increase access to healthcare for Americans living in rural areas, with approximately $4 million allotted to telehealth programs across the country.

"These funds reflect the priorities spelled out by President Obama in providing the best healthcare possible to rural Americans," HHS secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in a statement Monday. "The ultimate goal is to build healthier rural populations and communities."

The funds reach across seven programs administered by the Office of Rural Health Policy in the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA).

The program receiving the largest slice of the telehealth funding pie is the Telehealth Network Grant Program, which will receive more than $2 million. The program helps communities build capacity to develop sustainable telehealth programs and networks.

The Telehealth Resources center grant program will receive more than $1 million to provide technical assistance to help healthcare organizations, networks, and providers implement cost-effective telehealth programs serving rural and medically underserved areas and populations. The program is designed for entities with a successful track record in developing sustainable telehealth programs.

Close to $1 million will go to the Flex Rural Veterans Health Access program, a new program established to help eligible entities coordinate innovative approaches and to assist collaborative networks and virtual linkages to provide rural veterans and other residents access to mental health and other healthcare services. The funds will go toward improving mental health services through the use of health information exchange and telehealth in states where veterans make up a high percentage of the total population.

Telehealth allows patients in underserved and remote areas to receive healthcare without traveling great distances; it also is used frequently for distance education and healthcare administration. The services provided via telemedicine range from primary care to highly specialized care found in leading academic medical centers.

"The grants will strengthen partnerships among rural health providers," HRSA administrator Dr. Mary Wakefield said in a statement. She also said the funds will be used to recruit and retain rural healthcare professionals and modernize the healthcare infrastructure in rural areas.

Other grants included more than $22 million to the Medicare Rural Hospital Flexibility program; more than $3 million to the Rural Health Workforce Development program; $770,000 to the Frontier Community Health Integration Demonstration program; and almost $500,000 to the Rural Training Track Technical Assistance Demonstration program.