USDA Invests Over $1.4 Million in Distance Learning and Telemedicine Infrastructure to Improve Education and Health Outcomes in Hawaii and Western Pacific

David Rush
Hilo, Hawaii
Release Date
Feb 25, 2021

(HILO, Hawaii) Feb. 25, 2021 – The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) today announced it is investing $1,420,222 in Distance Learning and Telemedicine Infrastructure to Improve Education and Health Outcomes in Hawaii and Western Pacific, and a total investment of $42.3 million to help rural residents gain access to health care and educational opportunities. Rural areas are seeing higher infection and death rates related to COVID-19 due to several factors, including a much higher percentage of underlying conditions, difficulty accessing medical care, and lack of health insurance. The $42.3 million in awards includes $24 million provided through the CARES Act. In total, these investments will benefit 5 million rural residents.

“The coronavirus pandemic is a national emergency that requires an historic federal response. These investments by the Biden Administration will help millions of people living in rural places access health care and education opportunities that could change and save lives,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “USDA is helping rural America build back better using technology as a cornerstone to create more equitable communities. With health care and education increasingly moving to online platforms, the time is now to make historic investments in rural America to improve quality of life for decades to come.”

According to Denise Salmeron, Acting State Director for Hawaii and Western Pacific, “These infrastructure investments are critical in RD’s efforts to connect our rural communities to quality education and health care.”  

A recent report by the Rural Policy Research Institute’s Center for Rural Health Policy Analysis found infection and death rates in rural America due to COVID-19 are 13.4 percent higher than in urban areas. A recent report from USDA’s Economic Research Service, USDA ERS - Rural Residents Appear to be More Vulnerable to Serious Infection or Death From Coronavirus COVID-19, underscored the challenges facing rural Americans amidst the COVID-19 pandemic with even greater detail. Due to a confluence of factors, including higher percentages of underlying conditions, lack of health insurance, and lower access to medical facilities/care than urban counterparts, ERS analysts found rural Americans are suffering more severe illness or death due to COVID-19.

Rural Residents Appear to be More Vulnerable to Serious Infection or Death from  Coronavirus COVID-19






 Underlying health conditions (ages 20 to 84)



 Older adult population scale



 Lacking health insurance (ages 25 to 64)



 Distance to county with an intensive care hospital



The table above is from the USDA ERS January 2021 report: Rural Residents Appear to be More Vulnerable to Serious Infection or Death from Coronavirus COVID-19


USDA is funding 86 projects through the Distance Learning and Telemedicine (DLT) grant program. The program helps rural education and health care entities remotely reach students, patients and outside expertise. These capabilities make world-class education and health care opportunities accessible in rural communities. The ability to use telehealth resources is critical, especially now during a global pandemic.

USDA announced investments today in Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, West Virginia, American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.

Below are examples of projects announced today:

  • In American Samoa and Hawaii, $677,675 will be used to establish a maternal telemedicine network at the LBJ Tropical Medical Center. Ultrasound images will be recorded and transmitted to maternal fetal medicine specialists at the University of Hawaii in Honolulu. The network will provide access to maternal-fetal medicine specialist services not currently available on the island. It also will provide improved access to routine care for women who live on American Samoa's islands. For pregnant women who live on Ofu or Ta'u, prenatal care requires an eight-hour boat ride to Tutuila to visit the only hospital in the territory. The proposed project and partnership with the University of Hawaii will deliver direct services to patients in American Samoa and build the capacity of the local health care providers through the provision of tele-guidance and distance learning in Maoputasi, Ta'u, Ofu and Tualauta counties.
  • In Guam, the Island Eye Center received $742, 547 to be used to install telemedicine equipment at remote sites to diagnose and treat eye conditions, such as diabetic retinopathy, for rural patients. In addition, the telemedicine platform will be used to research eye disease and general medical conditions on Guam and facilitate two-way learning between eye surgeons and health care providers.

To learn more about investment resources for rural areas, interested parties should contact their USDA Rural Development state office.

In January, President Biden requested all parts of the federal government to contribute resources to contain the coronavirus pandemic. USDA is responding to the President’s call to action. To date, more than 350 USDA personnel have deployed to assist with standing up vaccination sites, for example. In addition to personnel, USDA is offering its facilities, cold chain infrastructure, public health experts, disaster response specialists, and footprint in rural and Tribal communities across the country. USDA’s commitment to control the pandemic extends to our own staff and facilities, with masking and physical distancing requirements across USDA, a commitment to provide PPE to our front-line workers, and working with states to prioritize vaccinations for our workforce. For more information, visit USDA also encourages people seeking health insurance to go to now through May 15th due to a Special Enrollment Period. If you are recently uninsured due to a job loss or between jobs, find a plan at and keep it for as long as you need it.

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USDA Rural Development provides loans and grants to help expand economic opportunities and create jobs in rural areas. This assistance supports infrastructure improvements; business development; housing; community facilities such as schools, public safety and health care; and high-speed internet access in rural areas. For more information, visit

USDA touches the lives of all Americans each day in so many positive ways. In the Biden-Harris Administration, USDA is transforming America’s food system with a greater focus on more resilient local and regional food production, ensuring access to healthy and nutritious food in all communities, building new markets and streams of income for farmers and producers using climate smart food and forestry practices, making historic investments in infrastructure and clean energy capabilities in rural America, and committing to equity across the Department by removing systemic barriers and building a workforce more representative of America. To learn more, visit


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