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Building healthier rural communities in South Carolina

Dr. Saundra Glover

Dr. Saundra Glover. Provided.

As we celebrated National Rural Health Day on Nov. 17 this year, we were reminded that a strong community is rooted in its people.

The Biden-Harris Administration is committed to serving those who live in the rural areas of this country, like the small towns and communities right here in South Carolina. At the United States Department of Agriculture, we are hard at work offering the resources to the rural and agricultural communities that feed and fuel our nation and provide the everyday essentials upon which America depends.

As I’ve traveled across South Carolina, I’ve seen firsthand the unique challenges people in rural communities and remote parts of the state have in accessing the health resources they need and deserve. We at SC Rural Development are committed to “going the extra mile” to ensure our programs and the benefits of our programs are equitable and accessible to all who call rural home.

At USDA Rural Development, we are committed to making sure that people, no matter where they live, have access to high-quality and reliable health care services like urgent care, primary care, and dental care. That’s why I've been a proud champion of programs like the Emergency Rural Health Care Grants, which was created by President Biden’s historic legislative package, the American Rescue Plan Act.

In the last year, this program has helped rural health care organizations across the state purchase supplies, deliver food assistance, renovate health care facilities and provide people with reliable medical testing and treatment.

Just recently RD has announced four projects that we funded which will help expand access to health care infrastructure and resources via the Emergency Rural Health Care Grants. For example:

Voorhees College received $770,250 in grant funding to make critical renovation upgrades to Voorhees University Health Center. This improvement will allow Voorhees University the needed assistance for food distribution, transportation, and mobile health care to provide expanded opportunities to members of the University community based on CDC guidelines. Through the Emergency Rural Healthcare Program Voorhees University will better position itself to provide adequate healthcare and expand the scope of its services. Through the University Health Center, the university provides primary health care services to its students. However, the onset of COVID-19 has caused the unit to extend its reach to the greater community to ensure that residents of Denmark and Bamberg County have free access to COVID testing and vaccinations.

• Lee County Council of Aging, Inc. received $117,500 in grant funding to purchase vehicles that will assist with food distribution, meal deliveries (approximately 600 meals per week), provide transportation to medical and business appointments for Lee County Council of Aging Inc.'s clients, repaving and expanding a parking lot, and paving a fitness track at the facility. Upgrading the vehicles will provide a more economical and practical way of supplying much needed services to the most vulnerable citizens of Lee County. Lee County Council of Aging provides services for homebound, elderly and disable citizens of Lee County.

• The vital Aging of Williamsburg County received a $1 million grant which will be used to construct the Murdaugh Senior Center in Kingstree, South Carolina. The facility is a 14,000 square foot facility which will provide seniors of rural Williamsburg County access to medical care, tele-medicine, food distribution, COVID 19 vaccines and testing, exercise and nutrition, health and wellness instructions as well as daily meals and companionship, and transportation to medical appointments.

• The Denmark Technical College received a $975,000 grant which will be used to expand the Denmark Technical College Nursing Program. The project expands the medical care services they provide to the students and community members including COVID vaccination/testing, mental health services, immunizations, health and nutrition services, general medical care, transportation to medical appointments and advanced specialized care.

People in remote parts of the state often need to travel greater distances to see a health care provider, are less likely to have access to high-speed internet to utilize telehealth services and are more likely to live in an area that has a shortage of doctors, dentists and mental health providers.

Through programs like the Distance Learning and Telemedicine Grants Program, we are making it easier for people living in rural areas to access health care services remotely.

RD is continuing to help expand access to health care infrastructure and resources via the Distance Learning and Telemedicine Grant Program.

Health is about much more than medical care. Access to modern, reliable water and wastewater infrastructure is a critical necessity for the health and well-being of every American.

In South Carolina, we continue to work hand-in-hand with our partners and local community leaders to promote a healthy community and environment through our Water and Environmental Programs.

These programs help rural communities obtain the technical assistance and capital financing necessary to develop clean and reliable drinking water and waste disposal systems. Safe drinking water and sanitary waste disposal systems are vital not only to public health, but also to the economic vitality of rural America

Through these programs, we make sure people, children and families across the state have clean water and safe sewer systems that prevent pollution and runoff.

USDA Rural Development is a partner who invests in keeping rural people healthy. Join us this National Rural Health Day, Thursday, Nov. 17 as we celebrate the power of rural.

You can learn more about our programs by visiting our website or by calling 803-765-5163.

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Dr. Saundra Glover is the South Carolina State Director of USDA Rural Development.