Four Maine educational organizations will expand access to remote learning and telehealth services for rural Mainers with a $3.6 million grant from the United States Department of Agriculture.
The grant will be divided between the Aucocisco School in Cape Elizabeth, the Maine School of Science and Mathematics in Limestone, the Sanford School Department and the University of Maine System.
The USDA award is part of a larger $42.3 million investment to improve access to telehealth services and remote educational opportunities for rural Americans. $24 million of the grant is provided through CARES Act funding.
UMS will receive the largest chunk of statewide funding at approximately $1 million. The institution will use the funds to install interactive teleconferencing equipment in 42 communities across the state.
The technology is especially critical for rural areas with few healthcare services amid the coronavirus pandemic.
A recent USDA study showed that people living in rural communities appeared to be more vulnerable to serious infections or death from COVID-19 than residents of urban areas.
People who have difficulty accessing medical care, are without health insurance and live more than 32 miles from an intensive care hospital can also be more vulnerable to severe illness or death from the disease.
A total of 26 classrooms at various UMaine campuses will receive web conferencing equipment for remote students to use. The university’s nursing program will also get two telemedicine equipment and remote patient monitoring systems for student training.
The grant will provide some Maine hospitals and health care clinics with similar equipment, along with remote patient exam rooms, IPads, and digital stethoscopes for providers. Penobscot Community Health Center will get 50 patient monitoring systems divided between its Belfast, Winterport, Brewer, Old Town and Bangor locations.
“This equipment will allow providers to monitor patients with chronic disease [and] to manage care of these rural patients within their homes,” according to Angela Cook, director of classroom technology with UMS.
Along with this, the Aucocisco School in Cape Elizabeth, MSSM in Limestone and the Sanford School Department will put their grant funding toward teleconferencing equipment to improve remote learning. The money is expected to also help expand STEM programs.
Aucocisco School received about $700,000 from the USDA grant. Both MSSM and Sanford were awarded more than $900,000.
“Now more than ever, our schools and healthcare facilities are relying on distance learning and telemedicine technology to assist students and patients in rural areas. This $3.57 million investment in Maine is critical to ensuring students can engage in home learning in rural areas and connect to a quality education,” USDA Rural Development Acting State Director Tommy R. Higgins said.