It has been five years since the President announced that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) had signed an agreement to streamline how the two agencies work together to support rural health and improve the health and well-being of rural communities through the use of technology and health information that is accessible when and where it matters most.

In those five years, rural communities and rural health care providers in every state and territory have accessed USDA financing and HHS technical assistance to help improve local access to care, and to support an interoperable health system.

For example, USDA Rural Development has financed projects to:

  • Build rural hospitals and expand rural health clinics
  • Rehabilitate infrastructure (e.g., servers, routers, computer docking stations) for wired and wireless health IT solutions in Critical Access Hospitals.
  • Purchase, install and adopt equipment and software necessary to ensure interoperable exchange of health information and support advanced health IT capabilities.
  • Offer telehealth specialty care in retirement communities and skilled nursing facilities,
  • Help health care organizations serving Indian and Tribal Reservations transition from paper to electronic health records
  • Enable rural hospitals to add beds for mental and behavioral health care and
  • Improve senior living conditions

$2.5 Billion Invested in Rural Health Across 20 States
HHS and USDA have worked together with government and non-government partners at the local, state and national level in 20 states to convene collaborative workshops focused on linking health care providers. This investment includes financing, technical assistance, and broadband connectivity needed to adopt health IT, engage in interoperable exchange of health information and adopt or expand the telehealth services they provide their communities.

USDA invested more than $2.5 billion in low interest loans, loan guarantees and grants for rural health across these 20 participating states between FY 2012 and FY 2016: Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South DakotaTennessee, Texas, Virginia, Washington, and Wyoming.

Appalachian Regional Commission Invested Across Eight States
The Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) was a key partner in this initiative. In fact, ARC invested at least $13.1 million in rural health projects in eight participating states between FY 2012 and 2016. These states’ ARC-supported projects totaled $31.6 million , including $13.1 million from ARC with matching funds from local, state and other federal partners.

Editor’s Note: Bill Menner is Iowa State Director, USDA Rural Development; and Leila Samy is Rural Health IT Coordinator, Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT, US Department of Health and Human Services.