Ed. Note: This blog post was originally published by the Department of Agriculture.
Since the White House Rural Council was formed in 2009, our members from across the Federal government have taken a renewed look at many critical programs and services that impact rural residents, with an overarching goal to ensure that Federal agencies are collaborating to achieve the greatest possible benefit in rural America.
Today, I hosted a meeting of the White House Rural Council where we continued our focus on shared efforts to better serve rural America – from conservation, to veterans’ services, to rural development, to support for American agriculture and more.
Today’s meeting included a special focus on expanding rural access to health care. Rural Americans face unique barriers with regard to health care services, and new investments in medical facilities, expanded information technology and stronger veterans’ health care services can help meet these challenges.
While we look forward to a number of announcements in the weeks and months to come that are intended to strengthen rural health care capacity, the Department of Health and Human Services made two key announcements today in partnership with the White House Rural Council.
First, HHS announced that tomorrow, $4 million will be awarded through its Rural Health Information Technology Program to recruit, educate, train and retain health IT specialists in rural America. These awards will allow 15 organizations across the nation to train more healthcare workers in the specialized technology needed to better manage records and deliver remote services in rural America. As these services are expanded, more folks in rural areas will see streamlined management of health care records. Service will be more efficient. And it will be easier for specialists to help provide remote consultations through innovative new technology.
HHS also announced new awards as part of ongoing efforts to enhance mental health and other healthcare services for our veterans in rural America. Through the Flex Rural Veterans Health Access Program, HHS is making available $900,000 to three states, which will be officially announced tomorrow, to enhance telehealth and health information technology efforts. The funding is aimed at expanding healthcare – especially access to mental health services – for rural veterans in areas with particularly high veteran populations. This new effort by HHS will strengthen health IT capabilities for a wide range of institutions, from pharmacies, to clinics and hospitals across rural America.
Building on these new announcements, Rural Council members also discussed ongoing efforts to expand health care services to our veterans, in partnership with community organizations. Right now, the Department of Veterans Affairs is accepting applications under its Rural Veterans Coordination Pilot Program. This effort seeks to partner with five organizations, for two years each, to help reach out to rural veterans and their families with information on programs that could help them.
As we look ahead to future meetings of the White House Rural Council, I’m confident that there is a great deal of opportunity for Federal agencies to partner on behalf of rural America like never before. We’re excited to find new ways to work with each other, and with Americans from across the nation, to better serve rural America. I look forward to keeping folks updated on our progress.
Tom Vilsack is the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture