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Rural Providers Get a Boost From Federal Broadband Stimulus

A local legal expert weighs in on how the aid may transform rural health systems.
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A bipartisan bill passed by Congress aims to increase broadband capabilities for providers and more of the healthcare industry moves to remote care during the pandemic.  The Healthcare Broadband Expansion During COVID-19 Act accounts for $2 billion to go toward telehealth connection at healthcare facilities. 

The money will be used for access to improved broadband connectivity as well as the necessary equipment to conduct a remote and secure appointment for public, nonprofit, and community health systems, says local healthcare practice leader at Jackson Walker, Virginia Mimmack. Rural areas have historically struggled with connectivity and access, and the pandemic has increased demand on those systems, sometimes exceeding their capacity.

The program will reimburse qualifying health systems for improvements they have made, rather than providing money on the front end, but should provide relief to those that need it. It focuses on rural, public, nonprofit, skilled nursing, and other facilities that care for underserved communities. “It will help target those areas that have been hard hit, which are now realizing that telehealth is so beneficial,” Mimmack says. 

In addition to the traditional computer screen kiosks used for telehealth, the funds can also be used for blood pressure cuffs and other equipment that are directly connected to providers that make care from home more comprehensive.  

This will not only help rural facilities care for their patients, it will allow them to keep some revenue streams alive as elective procedures have shuttered. Prior to the program, these advancements may have have been cost prohibitive, but they may be in reach now.    

“This can have a very significant impact and will allow better coordination of care,” Mimmack says. “Telemedicine and telemonitoring will allow providers to continue to follow up with their care. It will allow these rural communities and community health centers to get access to great specialists, having a positive and lasting impact on rural communities.”

 The pandemic has certainly been a health and economic disaster, but Mimmack sees the benefits of more telehealth. “I never imagined that the growth of telemedicine would be sparked by a pandemic, but I think it will be a good thing. It is a silver lining to all this.

Learn more about qualifications and eligibility for the program here.

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