November 22, 2023

Wyden, Merkley: USDA Invests $2.28 Million to Expand Health Care and Broadband Assistance in Rural Oregon

Communities to benefit include Hood River, Wasco, Marion, Yamhill and Clatsop counties

Washington D.C.—U.S. Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley today announced a federal investment of $2.28 million in rural telemedicine help for Clatsop, Hood River, Marion, Wasco, and Yamhill counties. 

The funding, from USDA Rural Development, includes a first-in-the-nation Broadband Technical Assistance Program investment of $500,000 for Rural Prosperity Partners that will help address fundamental barriers faced by rural communities, giving Oregonians everywhere a fair shot at receiving state and federal broadband funding. 

“The message from my town halls and other meetings throughout Oregon is clear – Rural communities need better access to healthcare and telehealth is a must to achieve that goal in rural parts of our state,”  Wyden said. “I’m gratified these rural communities have earned these federal resources, and will keep battling to secure similar investments benefiting every nook and cranny of Oregon.” 

“Oregon’s rural communities must continue to be a focus as we work to support access to all aspects of health care,” said Merkley. “These crucial investments across the state will ensure that folks living in more remote communities will have better access to behavioral health services, primary care, and dental care. I will keep working to ensure that these services reach Oregonians in every corner of the state.”

The USDA Rural Development’s 2023 distance learning and telemedicine grants include the following

  • One Community Health ($439,629): This investment will equip Hood River and Wasco Counties (and Klickitat County in Washington) with audio-visual and telehealth equipment that enable medical professionals at One Community Health in these counties to deliver diverse medical, behavioral health and dental telehealth treatment.
  • Santiam Memorial Hospital ($996,935): This will help equip one hub site in Multnomah County and one end-user site in rural Marion County with a virtual ICU program to increase the critical care available at Santiam Memorial Hospital in Stayton. About 35 fellowship-trained, board-certified critical care physicians, and 30 highly-skilled registered nurses certified in critical care from Oregon Science & Health University Hospital will provide support and consultation to the Santiam Hospital ICU clinicians and nursing staff whenever needed through on-demand, two-way video communication and patient monitoring.
  • Providence Health and Services ($347,347): This investment will help equip Yamhill, Hood River and Clatsop counties with specialized telemedicine equipment. Medical professionals with Providence Health and Services of Oregon in Multnomah County will support capacity at smaller rural hospitals with psychological/behavioral health evaluations, stroke evaluations, and neonatal distress evaluations and guidance.
  • In addition, $500,000 will be invested in the Broadband Technical Assistance Program.

“Currently in Oregon there is a seasonal excess demand for ICU beds throughout the state,” said Steve Vets, CMO of Santiam Hospital and Clinic. “When this excess demand becomes acute, patients are transferred great distances for care, sometimes out of state. This creates an unfortunate burden on families that are already struggling with an ill family member.

“With this grant, we will expand the capability of our four-bed ICU to care for sicker patients while keeping people in their own community, through leveraging existing local and OHSU staff with modern telecommunication equipment,” Vets said. “Santiam Hospital has Critical Care Providers and Nurses, however the sessional variation of demand combined with the limited number of trained critical care staff create limits on how these beds can be staffed and thus utilized. The Virtual ICU program with OHSU will provide a modern solution to the supply-demand imbalance.”