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Stimulus package rural health care grants awarded

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(The Center Square) – Three health care entities in western Virginia will receive a total of nearly $11 million in federal funding from a program established by the American Rescue Plan Act.

The 2021 stimulus package included the creation of a temporary grant program through the U.S. Department of Agriculture called the Emergency Rural Health Care Grant Program. The bill allotted up to $500 million for the expansion of health care services to eligible public bodies, community-based nonprofits and federally-recognized tribes – some specific to COVID-19 – like testing and vaccines, and also for projects dedicated to “the long-term sustainability of rural health care.”

“All Virginians, no matter where they live, should have access to high-quality, reliable health care,” said Sens. Tim Kaine and Mark Warner, supporters of ARPA, in a joint statement. “We’re glad this funding will help expand telehealth services, improve capacity for mental health and substance use treatment programs, and update essential medical equipment so that more Virginians can get the care they need.”

Both the Virginia Consortium to Advance Health Care in Appalachia and the Mount Rogers Community Services Smyth County campus will receive the bulk of the funding, approximately $10 million, split nearly evenly between the two.

The roughly $5 million granted to the Virginia Consortium – a group of six large health care organizations, including the Health Appalachia Institute at UVA’s College at Wise, Tri-Area Health and Ballad Health – will go toward increasing “access to telehealth by expanding regional networks that will share resources, training and educational opportunities” with people living in rural areas throughout the commonwealth.

Smyth County’s Mount Rogers Community Services will use its $5 million for improvements to developmental disability programs and its Rhea B. Lawrence Recovery Center, which serves patients suffering from mental health and substance use disorders. Mount Rogers will also relocate the crisis care center to centralize patient care. The center’s service area includes Bland, Carroll, Grayson, Smyth and Wythe counties, and Galax.

Bath County Community Hospital is set to receive more than $850,000 to replace its X-ray machine and electronic medical records system subscription, which were damaged in an electrical fire. The hospital serves residents of Bath, Highland and Alleghany counties.

The $11 million in grants to Virginia health care organizations is part of a much larger round of Emergency Rural Health Care grants. Virginia is one of the 39 states (plus Puerto Rico) receiving a total of $129 million from the USDA through the program.

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