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Palmetto Care Connections Seeks Digital Inclusion for Seniors in Rural Areas

BAMBERG, SC—Palmetto Care Connections (PCC), a non-profit telehealth organization, recently received a $19,500 Rural Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) grant and an additional $25,000 pledge from S.C. Department on Aging to implement a digital inclusion program for seniors in Allendale, Barnwell, Clarendon, Lower Richland and Williamsburg counties.

“COVID-19 has created an explosion in telehealth services and uncovered a tremendous need for internet access and digital literacy in rural areas,” said PCC Chief Executive Officer Kathy Schwarting. “As PCC surveyed rural health care providers, we confirmed that many of the seniors they serve have difficulty using and understanding technology, and many do not have internet access at home. The goal is to connect seniors not only to telehealth, but also to a variety of quality of life resources, such as special S.C. Arts Commission programs, to combat the social isolation that many seniors have faced during the pandemic.”

The Rural LISC grant and S.C. Department on Aging funding will help up to 100 seniors who live in rural communities, aged 65 and older, with digital literacy training, a free computing device and free cellular service for 12 months. PCC will work with local internet service providers to offer affordable internet packages for seniors and will help program participants apply for internet subsidies through the FCC Lifeline program. In addition, PCC will provide Digital Navigators to provide support and assistance throughout the pilot program.

“For more than 40 years, Rural LISC has proudly worked to connect communities with resources and access to opportunities that everyone deserves,” said Rural LISC Program Officer Christa Vinson. “PCC’s Digital Inclusion pilot program supports the mission of Rural LISC by providing the physical equipment and technical assistance that this segment of the population needs in order to access services and benefit from an increasingly technical society.”

“The South Carolina Department on Aging works with a network of regional and local organizations to develop and manage services that help seniors remain independent in their homes and in their communities. SCDOA is pleased to be a part of the PCC Digital Inclusion pilot program focusing on seniors in five of South Carlina’s rural counties,” said Kay Hightower, SCDOA Senior Consultant, Outreach and Partnership Building.

“It is our hope that this pilot program will be a model of one approach to closing the digital divide in South Carolina,” said Schwarting. “While PCC’s focus has traditionally been on serving rural health care providers with telehealth, broadband and technology resources, we have learned that patients need help in connecting to their health care providers. Residents of rural areas not only need internet access, they need access that is affordable and they need a device and knowledge to connect to resources for a better quality of life.”

“PCC is a member of the Digital Equity workgroup that is facilitated by the S.C. Office of Rural Health. Members include Rural LISC, S.C. Department on Aging, S.C. Arts Council, S.C. Telehealth Alliance, Revolution D and others who want to help close the digital divide in South Carolina. Through this committee we connected with Rural LISC and the S.C. Department on Aging to develop this pilot Digital Inclusion program for seniors in Allendale, Barnwell, Clarendon, Lower Richland and Williamsburg. We are grateful for their support and look forward to making a difference in the lives of some rural seniors,” said Schwarting.

Established in 2010, PCC is a non-profit organization that provides technology, broadband, and telehealth support services to health care providers in rural and underserved areas in S.C. PCC hosts the Annual Telehealth Summit of South Carolina presenting state and national best practices and trends, as well as providing networking connections for health care, information technology and broadband professionals.  PCC co-chairs the South Carolina Telehealth Alliance, along with the Medical University of South Carolina, serving as an advocate for rural providers and partnering with organizations to improve health care access and delivery for all South Carolinians.