Telehealth networks in medically underserved areas will be one of the prime beneficiaries of funding just announced by the Health Resources and Services Administration.

The HRSA awarded $16 million in new funds to aid 52 rural community projects in 32 states, with 21 of the awards, totaling nearly $6.3 million, enabling the development of telehealth networks in medically underserved areas.

Each telehealth organization will receive about $300,000 annually for up to three years to build sustainable programs with a focus on connecting to school-based health centers, according to the agency.

HRSA grant awards to other organizations include $4.9 million over four years split among seven rural health research centers; 21 organizations sharing a little more than $4 million over three years for small provider quality improvement initiatives; and three awards totaling $900,000 for three organizations to use telehealth and other health information technologies to offer mental health and services to veterans in rural areas.

Community Health Center of Branch County in Coldwater, Mich., with an 86-bed hospital and five clinics, has for three years been funded by a $200,000 State of Michigan grant to support telehealth clinics in three high schools using nurse practitioners trained in telehealth assessments and overseen by a physician, says Randy Degroot, president and CEO.

The new $300,000 grant from HRSA will support expansion of telehealth into middle schools and creation of a behavioral telehealth program using a licensed master social worker, Degroot says.

On the IT front, Community Health Center has been using Internet connectivity to link with the three school clinics, but inadequate speed and uptime has been an issue, and Degroot is looking for broadband technology. The center has been able to monitor heart rates and conduct ear examinations, among other tests.

Better connectivity, such as direct connections or tower line of sight connectivity to the schools, will enable the addition of other tests, such as pulmonary function. Degradation of images also has been a problem that should now improve.

In applying for the new HRSA grant funding, Community Health Center staff worked with the local health department. Because it hadn’t participated in a federal grant process before, they found there are a lot of hoops to jump through, Degroot says.

More information on other grants awarded through the HRSA program is available here.

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