COLUMBIA, S.C. — Two Pee Dee organizations were awarded in total more than $1 million in USDA grants to develop long-distance solutions to better serve not only rural students but also rural residents.
The grants are part of $42.3 million the U.S. Department of Agriculture is providing to help rural residents gain access to health care and educational opportunities.
Williamsburg County School District will use a $792,441 grant to establish a distance learning system to make dual enrollments available to students. It will also expand science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) initiatives for 3,700 students and provide training for teachers in Greeleyville, Hemingway, Lanes, Kingstree, Salters and Stuckey.
McLeod Health will use a $697,674 grant to provide telehealth services to rural communities in Clarendon, Chesterfield, Marlboro counties as well as lower Florence County.
Telehealth platforms will be installed at several public schools in the area to help students receive primary care visits and prescriptions. In addition, a platform will be placed in primary care offices in Manning and Cheraw to enable pulmonologists to perform remote visits on patients with lung ailments.
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 Distance Learning and Telemedicine program helps rural communities use the unique capabilities of telecommunications to connect to each other and to the world, overcoming the effects of remoteness and low population density,” said Marty Bright-Rivera, USDA South Carolina acting state director for rural development. “USDA is committed to working with the local communities to provide services which allows rural America equal access to quality healthcare and education, because we know when we work together, America prospers.”