Four groups in Alaska will soon receive federal funding for telemedicine and distance learning projects.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture said Thursday that it will award $23.4 million in grants to such projects across the country, with about $1.4 million of that going to Alaska.
Telemedicine and distance learning services can help "connect rural communities with medical and education experts in other parts of the country" to improve access to health care and educational opportunities, the USDA said in a statement.
The Copper River School District will get $488,558 to provide distance learning services to five primary schools in extremely remote Alaska villages, the USDA said.
The other three groups in the state will use the grants for telemedicine: The Tanana Chiefs Conference will get a $375,000 award to expand its telemedicine program; Anchorage nonprofit Hope Community Resources Inc. will get $279,820 to buy video-conferencing equipment for mental health and disability counseling, training and support services; and Barrow nonprofit Arctic Slope Native Association Ltd. will get $287,198 to buy a tele-pharmacy remote dispensing system. (Right now, medication can only be flown into remote clinics.)
"Using technology for educational opportunities and medical care can provide services that are often unavailable in rural areas," Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a statement.
Jacoline Bergstrom, executive director of health services at the Tanana Chiefs Conference, said the money will be used to upgrade and buy equipment that's particularly useful in a large swath of the Interior where many of the villages are especially remote.
"Our doctors travel on a regular basis, but sometimes weather is an issue and sometimes planes don't always make it in," she said. "That's another benefit to telemedicine — you can still have a physician engage with a patient."
The Tanana Chief Conference's telemedicine services help to connect the village-based clinics with doctors in Fairbanks.
The grants from the USDA will support 45 distance learning and 36 telemedicine projects across the U.S.