Imagine for a moment what it must be like to get injured in an accident, or have a heart attack or stroke, and have the nearest medical facility be an hour's ambulance ride away – and that's after the ambulance from thirty miles away gets to you.
That's an unfortunate reality faced by many rural Americans, where the miles between critical care centers can reach into the triple digits. USDA Rural Development is working to change that reality.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack this week announced important investments of $1.2 billion to improve access to health care, community infrastructure, and provide essential services across rural America through Rural Development's Community Facilities program. This brings us to a grand total of nearly $5 billion in rural health care investments since 2009, impacting nearly 7 million people in rural America.
As we celebrate National Rural Health Care Week, I'm proud of the achievements we've made thus far in closing that distance between our rural communities and top-notch medical care. For example, we've recently provided a $91 million loan to the Avita Health System in Galion, Ohio to convert a vacant department store into a multi-specialty health care facility.
We provided funding to support the construction of a brand new critical care hospital in Livingston, Montana - one that replaces a crowded and undersized facility with one that can now serve residents throughout the area. We also invested in transportation in rural Allendale County, South Carolina to provide seniors in this Promise Zone region called the Low Country a way to get to the medical services they need.
No discussion about health care would be complete without considering mental health. In December of 2013, Secretary Vilsack set a three-year goal of investing $50 million in CF funds to develop or improve mental health facilities and services in rural areas. This year, we quadrupled that goal, funding more than $213 million in 80 projects in 34 states.
It goes beyond building hospitals and buying ambulances though – we have also invested in broadband technology to bring specialized medical experts from regional centers and place them digitally into rural medical facilities to make critical diagnoses and provide guidance to the trained staff in the field. This bridging of the miles using fiber optics and state-of-the-art medical equipment can quite literally save lives by giving patients immediate access to the best care available.
When we combine this level of investment with the personal support available to rural residents through the Affordable Care Act, it's clear that we are making great strides towards a new reality. A new reality that brings cutting-edge and affordable health care to all Americans – not just the ones in our urban centers.
At USDA Rural Development, we understand how important health care is for rural America, and we are committed to investing in these facilities, and more importantly, in supporting the hard working Americans who rely on them.