NEWS

Congresswoman Bustos and USDA Secretary Vilsack stop in Geneseo

Claudia Loucks
Mark Kuhn, at left, Chief Executive Officer at Hammond-Henry Hospital; U.S. Representative Cheri Bustos; and United States Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack are shown on the grounds of Hammond-Henry Hospital in Geneseo where Bustos and Vilsack announced the expansion to high sped internet

When staff at Hammond-Henry Hospital in Geneseo was invited to host United States Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and U.S. Representative Cheri Bustos in making an announcement on Friday, Oct. 22, the staff quickly responded “Yes!”

Their stop at the Geneseo hospital was to announce a significant expansion of access to high-speed internet, health care and educational services for millions of rural Americans nationwide.

The announcement continues to move forward President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better Agenda by prioritizing economic growth in rural America and investing in the backbone of the country – the middle class, according to the press release received.

The announcement was made when the country’s two leaders visited the newly-renovated emergency department at Hammond-Henry Hospital, a project that was financed in part by a USDA loan.

Vilsack said on Nov. 24, the USDA will begin accepting applications for up to $15 billion in loans and grants to expand the availability of broadband in rural areas. USDA is making the funding available through the Reconnect Program.

In the announcement, Vilsack said, “For too long, the ‘digital divide’ has left too many people living in rural communities behind: unable to compete in the global economy and unable to access the services and resources that all Americans need. As we build back better than we were before, the actions I am announcing today will go a long way toward ensuring that people who live or work in rural areas are able to tap into the benefits of broadband, including access to specialized health care, educational opportunities and the global marketplace. Rural people, businesses and communities must have affordable, reliable, high-speed internet so they can fully participate in mode modern society and the modern economy.”

To be eligible for Reconnect Program funding, an applicant must serve an area without broadband service at speeds of 100 megabits per second and 20 Mbps (upload), and commit to building facilities capable of providing broadband service at speeds of 100 Mbps to every location in its proposed service area.

For more information, visit www.usda.gov.

In commenting about Hammond-Henry Hospital being chosen as the site for the announcement, Mark Kuhn, Chief Executive Officer at Hammond-Henry, said, “The Secretary and Congresswoman’s senior level and event staff connected by phone on Tuesday and Wednesday, then visited Hammond-Henry on Thursday to finalize the facility walk-through, security plans and talking points.”

“They arrived early on Friday to finalize the process, timing and flow,” he said. “The team was extremely organized, professional, and courteous in their approach.”

“As an organization, we are honored to have been chosen as the venue for their visit and important national announcement,” Kuhn added. “Our collaboration with SDA and the City of Geneseo for a $1 million, 10-year, and 0 % interest loan in 2019 was part of the draw, as well as Hammond-Henry Hospital being a progressive, rural-focused, independent hospital with multiple community clinics. We have also recently applied to USDA as part of the USDA national emergency rural healthcare (ERHC) grant program to help fund the upcoming $750k renovation of our laboratory, which has conducted nearly 47,000 Covid tests since the beginning of the pandemic and has total annual volumes of over 600,000 tests per year.”

Kuhn said Secretary Vilsack and Congresswoman Bustos were particularly interested in and impressed by the organization’s commitment to training the next generation of clinicians and healthcare workers, the use of telemedicine, which will be enhanced by improved broadband coverage, and the hospital’s ability to provide a broad scope of care for area residents in their home communities.

“Dr. Julie Brown relayed a story of interacting with busy farmers, especially during planting and harvest seasons, and having better telemedicine connectivity with some farmers in their combines, than in their homes, in some locations,” Kuhn said.

He said the hospital tour included an opportunity for Vilsack and Bustos to meet hospital board members, tour the emergency department, tour the laboratory, and visit the Hammond-Henry Hospital Medical Group-Geneseo office to better understand Covid vaccination preparation, a telemedicine demonstration. The visit concluded with a formal press conference in the hospital front entry garden with the announcement of the national broadband funding initiative.

When Vilsack and Bustos left Hammond-Henry Hospital, they were off to their next event at Lock and Dam 15, to highlight the importance of maintaining and improving the nation’s inland waterways.