|MEETING THE DEMANDS OF THE DIGITAL AGE: LEVERAGING BROADBAND FOR RURAL HEALTHCARE AND WORKFORCE DEVELOPMENT DISCUSSED AT USDA CONFERENCE|
|Americus, Aug 13, 2013
@@ Today, at South Georgia Technical College, USDA Georgia Rural Development connected communities to resources designed to leverage broadband connectivity during the Smart Rural Communities Conference. The major topics discussed were Telemedicine and Workforce Development through Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Education.
USDA partnered with SGTC to bring an impactful agenda of presenters from a variety of private and government sectors including: Middle Georgia Regional Commission, South Georgia Governmental Services Authority, AgUplink, Georgia Rural Health Association, Georgia Partnership for TeleHealth, Inc., the State Office of Rural Health, Georgia Rural Development Council, the City of Americus, Star Racing, and the Economic Development Administration.
During the Broadband segment, Middle Georgia Regional Commission Deputy Director Laura Mathis talked about the Digital Georgia initiative, Georgia’s priorities and plan for meeting the needs of today’s “new” digitally networked, virtualized, global economy. The plan will identify services available, opportunities for partnership, needs for local government, healthcare, businesses and education. Mathis introduced statistics from Site Selection Magazine indicating that businesses identify the fundamental need for broadband access among their highest priorities, ranked only behind the needs for road infrastructure and a skilled labor force.
“Having access to a broadband network is fundamental” said Andy Hayes, USDA Broadband Field Representative, “but beyond that,” he continued, “the Smart Communities concept means that a community’s bandwidth is leveraged to deliver quality healthcare and technical education among other benefits like precision agriculture”. Dustin Springman, co-founder of rural internet service provider, AgUplink, explained how extending the bandwidth capacity of rural regions with fiber optics, cell towers and radio technologies helps his company provide precision agriculture applications in rural communities.
Broadband issues related to alternatives in delivery of health care were discussed during the Rural Health Information Technology panel. Some broadband Rural Health Information Technology (RHIT) solutions include telemedicine, electronic billing and scheduling systems, the use of electronic health records (EHRs) and automated processes for clinical care. Paula Guy of the Georgia Partnership for TeleHealth, Inc. gave a demonstration of telemedicine in action via live feed from the school clinic at Ware County High School where a primary care physician was linked to the nurse at the school to provide accurate diagnosis. “Connecting schools via telemedicine is giving schools high quality, efficient and cost effective care, it’s like the school has a physician, a psychiatrist and other health specialists right on staff.” said Guy.
Workforce Development was the focus of the third panel discussion. Star Racing co-owner Jackie Bryce is also the developer of the Americus Motorsports Complex (AMC), a world class multi-use racing facility which will include a Business Technology Park. Bryce envisions creating a motorsports hub in Southwest Georgia through this project and shared how the AMC will create the need for a variety of technical jobs such as for tooling and fabrication. SGTC is partnering with AMC to prepare for the influx of job opportunities through their Automotive Technology program. Americus Mayor Barry Blount expounded on how South Georgia Technical College is an instrumental community partner in training a technically skilled workforce by enhancing curriculum offerings, updating facilities and enhancing technology.
USDA Rural Development Georgia State Director Quinton Robinson explained the agency’s priority this year to provide access to capital for STEM projects and today presented SGTC President Sparky Reeves with a $28,800 Economic Impact Initiative grant for upgrades to the college’s science laboratories. “South Georgia Technical College would like to thank the USDA for their partnership and support of our Science Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) projects. The majority of the job growth over the next five years seems to be in the STEM arena. By partnering with USDA, South Georgia Technical College will be able to engage students at the high school and college level to encourage them to pursue some of the lucrative careers in these fields,” said SGTC President Sparky Reeves. “The grant funds provided by the USDA will assist us in constructing and equipping new Chemistry and Physics labs,” Reeves further explained.
For more on the Smart Communities concept, see National Telecommunications Cooperative Association’s (NTCA) white paper “The Smart Rural Community”: http://www.ntca.org/smart-rural-community/smart-rural-community.html
President Obama's plan for rural America has brought about historic investment and resulted in stronger rural communities. Under the President's leadership, these investments in housing, community facilities, businesses and infrastructure have empowered rural America to continue leading the way – strengthening America's economy, small towns and rural communities. USDA's investments in rural communities support the rural way of life that stands as the backbone of our American values. President Obama and Agriculture Secretary Vilsack are committed to a smarter use of Federal resources to foster sustainable economic prosperity and ensure the government is a strong partner for businesses, entrepreneurs and working families in rural communities.
USDA, through its Rural Development mission area, has a $189 billion portfolio of programs designed to improve the economic stability of rural communities, businesses, residents, farmers and ranchers and improve the quality of life in rural America. USDA has made a concerted effort to deliver results for the American people, even as the Department implements sequestration – the across-the-board budget reductions mandated under terms of the Budget Control Act.
USDA has already undertaken historic efforts since 2009 to save more than $828 million in taxpayer funds through targeted, common-sense budget reductions. These reductions have put USDA in a better position to carry out its mission, while implementing sequester budget reductions in a fair manner that causes as little disruption as possible.
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