Health centers in 20 Northern and Mid-Michigan counties will have access to new, interactive equipment to help address the opioid crisis. The USDA has granted more than five hundred thousand dollars to opioid prevention programs.
Sara Byks spoke with Jason Allen, the Michigan U-S-D-A Rural Development Director.
Allen: "As we know there are so many challenges in rural America in regards to the opioid crisis. And one of the ways the United States Department of Agriculture is doing is providing communities tools. One of these tools are grant dollars that are being distributed to help with the opioid crisis.
"The first one is going to be occurring in the WCMU listening area, up in the Alpena area. When you look at the challenges they have on instruction and make sure that the competencies of the staff are available. Alpena community college is receiving approximately a half million dollar grant to assist with them in long-distance learning to many smaller communities to help them with medical professional training.
"The second one directly affects the Mount Pleasant area. A company called Ortele has received a $50,000 grant to help with interface with screens and training so that communities can have a place to access opioid treatments remotely."
Byks: So with this remote technology, they are calling it telemedicine. Can you walk me through that?
Allen: "As we know with instances occurring in so many parts of Upper Michigan, struggles with the ability to have the benefits of close medicine.Regional hospitals do a wonderful job but if you are not near one of those, it is often difficult to access good medical treatment.
"We know that the opioid crisis, is affecting rural Michigan significantly more than it is affecting urban. So these grants will allow people to remotely talk with professionals. Now in the case of Alpena Community College, training to make sure standards are kept in place, to make sure that appropriate types of safety measures are in place for these individuals who are helping with medicine and medical treatment. That is one of the major focuses because Alpena Community College has a very good nursing and also Allied Health medicine program.
"In the aspect of Ortele, what we find is that the ability to maybe have a place where a family can go to help with certain types of treatment in regards to opioids. Having a screen, instead of having to drive hundreds of miles or many miles to access professional care gives a benefit to so many of those families in rural Michigan."
Byks: With the Alpena program, it said that it will be included in 18 Northeastern counties. So how will help Northern Michigan?
Allen: "As you know with the Allied Health area, accessibility to training is one of the main factors. And often distance learning is a very good method when you have to drive hundreds of miles. When you think about the expansiveness of 18 counties in Northeast Michigan, that is hundreds of miles. So if you can access that training at one of your local clinics, if you can access the treatment at one of you local clinics it helps the family, saves on time, and gives a professional edge to the people who may not be able to access it because they don’t have the dollars to get the training."
Byks: We’ve been hearing a lot about the opioid crisis for quite a few years now, would you say that telemedicine is another tool we will be using to from now on?
Allen: "Our programs at the United States Department of Agriculture are varied. We are able to assist with the opioid crisis in several different ways. One we have the ability through our community facilities to finance our hospitals and treatment centers. We also have the ability to grant money. We recently did that in Upper Michigan for ambulances and law enforcement vehicles. Then we have this remote Ortele medicine dollars that are able to help. Now that is no panacea for each of those communities, but it creates tools in the tool box to deal with this crisis."
Byks: What type of additional funding could be available in the future for programs looking to prevent opioid use?
Allen: "In the Farm Bill, there is a myriad of areas that the USDA rural development covers. And so as the community has needs, and those needs could be varied. Whether it be healthcare, or long-distance learning, or the ability to access equipment. Those would be our sweet spot, they are in the farm bill. A lot depends on the funding levels that are in place by Congress but those programs have been and will continue to expand."