Fastest and slowest rural broadband? MN not on either list

Good news or bad news? I’m not sure but SatelliteInternet recently posted the fastest and slowest broadband connections in rural America and Minnesota doesn’t make either list.

This site looks a lot like a commercial so I take much of what it says with a grain of salt but there are a number of provider options, including speeds and pridces in detail, which is nice for comparison to what you’re being offered in your community by these and other providers. They even outline the pros and cons of different services.

And they outline the issue…

According to the FCC’s 2020 Broadband Deployment Report, 22.3% of rural Americans don’t have access to internet download speeds of at least 25 Mbps (which is the recommended speed for working from home and online schooling).4,5 And the numbers are even worse on Tribal lands, where 32.1% of Americans don’t have access to internet speeds of 25 Mbps.5

Yet in metropolitan areas, only 1.5% of Americans lack access to these same speeds.5 Rural America’s lackluster internet speeds contribute to the homework gap and a lower percentage of college graduates when compared to Americans living in metropolitan areas.

They outline their methodology, which I think it interesting as we look at statewide speed testing in Minnesota…

Our data comes from speed tests taken on HighSpeedInternet.com. We examined results from more than one million US speed tests to find the fastest and slowest average rural internet speeds.

We defined a “rural” city as a community with a population of less than 10,000 people that is geographically removed from an urban city, which we qualified as meaning it’s at least an hour drive away from the nearest major city. We also filtered out locations with fewer than 50 speed test results to ensure accurate representation of the city’s average speed. In all, we ranked and researched nearly 600 rural cities in the US.

CoBank reports that Rural Broadband Valuations Remain High

CoBank recently released a report that indicates that rural broadband is a good investment. Here’s a two minute video that explains why.

As Jeff Johnston points out this is a time when folks are looking to acquire rural broadband companies including WISPS (wireless internet service providers). It’s good news for communities so long as the acquiring company is intersted in investment after the acquisition.

MN Health Care Provider COVID Survey: 85% would continue telehealth after COVID

Thanks to Teri Fritsma at Office of Rural Health & Primary Care for sharing their MN Health Care Provider COVID Survey. I’ve pulled out the stats that I thought seemed most broadband related. You can see that broadband has made telehealth easier in ways and COVID has accelerated adoption.

About the survey…

With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, MDH designed a brief survey to learn more about the changes Minnesota’s health care providers are facing at work as they respond to the pandemic. The COVID Health Provider survey focuses on a handful of COVID-specific topics, including providers’ concerns, time spent working, use of telemedicine, and related topics.

Some highlights…

▪ Approximately 15 percent of providers reported that their primary work location was some sort of remote site (such as their home), where they consulted with patients via telemedicine. However, this varied greatly by profession, with mental health professionals far more likely than others to be working in a remote setting away from patients or clients. An estimated 57 percent of licensed professional counselors (including LPCs and LPCCs); 54 percent of social workers; and 58 percent of psychologists reported that they were working remotely.

▪ More than half of all providers reported that at least some of the care they provided was remote—either via telephone, email, or dedicated telemedicine equipment (or all three). Again, this varied greatly by profession, with mental health providers most likely to be providing care via telemedicine or telephone.

▪ More than 85 percent of all respondents who were using telemedicine said they thought they would continue to provide at least some care via telemedicine after the pandemic ended.

▪ Nearly two-thirds of all respondents reported that their work had changed in some way because of COVID-19—for example, taking on new responsibilities at work, backfilling for other employees, and/or managing patients’ and clients’ COVID-19-related concerns. ▪ An estimated 23 percent reported that their worksite had been “totally prepared” to respond to the pandemic.

licensed marriage and family therapists renew their licenses in the fall and therefore would not have had the opportunity to take the survey

Comments on telemedicine…

  • “Telemedicine can be very challenging for patients who need an interpreter.”
  • “Should be allowed going forward. It’s very helpful for elderly patients who have a difficult time getting to appointments.”
  • “I work in mental health and I think it works well. We have fewer no-shows, and clients generally like it. A lot of people are uncomfortable coming in to the office even without a pandemic.”
  • “It’s okay for follow-up or non-acute care, but it doesn’t work for evaluating new, acute problems.”
  • “It’s been a great tool for some patients, but some (non-tech savvy) don’t have the ability to use it.”
  • “Exacerbates existing inequities in health care.”
  • “Telemedicine works well for me for people who struggle with transportation issues in rural areas.”
  • “It works in the sense that I can still provide much-needed client care. But it doesn’t work in the sense that there’s inequality in clients being to access telemedicine.”
  • “We need to do more of it. It improves patients’ care and our professional lives.”
  • “Telemedicine has been integral in providing services to vulnerable and oppressed populations that face transportation issues, scheduling concerns, unforgiving work schedules, family demands, and poor organization due to a variety of factors. It behooves us as social workers to fight for this service to remain a widely-available platform for services that have typically been gatekept for those with flexible business hours, reliable transportation, and available childcare.”
  • “I have found telemedicine a great way to provide care especially for established patients with whom I am familiar. It is a bit more difficult for complex medical issues and for multiple concerns but I think my patients really appreciate the option. There are some things that we still need to see patients for.” “The CMS rules going forward are unclear.” “Works great.”

 

Senator Klobuchar promotes better broadband in Farmfest forum

The Land (out of Mankato) reports…

Senator Amy Klobuchar spoke as part of the Farmfest virtual “Current State of the Ag Economy” panel on Aug. 4. Presenting from her senate office in Washington D.C., Klobuchar proudly touted that she is one of the most-senior members of the Senate Ag Committee. That being her focus, she explained there’s a concerted effort to get some additional funding for ag in the senate.

She emphasized the need for expanded broadband…

Klobuchar believes not enough attention has been paid to the needs of rural areas and the vital role they play in sustaining this nation. “It gives us a really strong case to make, about why it’s so important that we have producers and growers in our own country.”

Klobuchar believes it’s not only the farm bill which is critical to our rural areas, but access to high speed internet as well. “Not only do we need a strong farm bill, but expanded broadband coverage. Kids in parts of rural America don’t have access to virtual learning right now due to the lack of high-speed broadband in areas. There’s a story in southern Minnesota of a kid taking her biology exam in a liquor store parking lot because it was the only place she could get that high speed. We’re working really hard to get some added funding in this next package when it comes to broadband,” Klobuchar said.

What can you do with a drone? Ask Wisconsin

I thought this was interesting. I live in a city. This summer I have seen more drones than usual, often at protests or rallies. I was delighted to hear of some times in rural Wisconsin where drones saved time, money and lives. GovTech reports…

Within the first three or four months of the purchase, Bushey’s department received a call from a resident who couldn’t find her husband. Evidence suggested the man was in a particular part of the lake. A drone was launched, and after two minutes of flight time, the police found the husband.

Bushey shared another drowning story to illustrate the efficiency of drone technology. In 2016, someone had drowned in an unknown portion of the lake. With six people and 90 minutes of time, the department located the victim.

In contrast, Bushey recently offered a drone as a resource during a search for an intoxicated man who had fallen into the lake. The offer was declined, and it took five hours for a team of 13 agencies from Wisconsin and Illinois to find the person without the drone.

Bushey cited other recent episodes in which drone technology has made a difference in Linn. One incident involved a man who attempted suicide by overdose. A drone found the man who, according to a doctor, would have died in another hour. In another case, an older individual was discovered lying down in a pasture in the middle of the night. For Bushey, these examples more than demonstrate that drones have proven their value to Linn.

“There’s not really a dollar value [on people’s lives],” he said.

Wisconsin is looking at the Minnesota Model – regrets not investing in the past

SWNews out of Wisconsin asks readers if they are Stuck with Lousy Internet? They report…

If you live in rural Wisconsin, you know how bad the internet service can be. More than 40 percent of rural residents lack access to high speed internet, according to the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin. Nationally, about 31 percent of rural households lack access. Actual percentages might even be higher due to poor FCC mapping, experts say. More on that later.

And use Minnesota as an example of what they wish they had done…

The Wisconsin government has done relatively little to help. From 2013-2019, the state funded about $20 million in grants for expansion of broadband, an amount experts say is less than negligible. In a similar time period, Minnesota shelled out more than $108 million in broadband expansion grants, and providers had to match those grants with another $146 million, said Eric Lightner, a spokesman for the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development.

That’s a total of $255 million for broadband expansion in Minnesota, more than 10 times greater than Wisconsin’s investment. Now, about 16 percent of rural households in Minnesota lack access to high speed internet, Lightner said.

The pandemic has increased the need…

Adding more urgency to the issue is the coronavirus pandemic, which has forced many to work and study from home 100 percent of the time.

“This has become five times more important now than it was before,” said Barry Orton, a telecommunications professor emeritus at UW-Madison, “and it was really important before.”

Trump Administration Seeks Applications for Capacity Building and Planning Grants in Rural Communities

From the USDA…

United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is accepting applications to help rural communities enhance capacity for broadband access; preserve cultural and historic structures; and support the development of transportation, housing, and recreational spaces.

USDA is making $1 million in grants available under the Rural Placemaking Innovation Challenge (RPIC). Eligible recipients may use the grants to develop multi-jurisdictional plans to benefit cities or towns with 50,000 residents or less. Organizations may use funds to develop actionable plans, convene partners, identify community needs and implement priorities to build rural prosperity.

Public or private groups, organizations, or institutions that demonstrate experience in providing placemaking technical assistance to rural communities are eligible to apply.

USDA encourages applicants to develop projects and plans that provide measurable results to help create livable communities; encourage partnerships; contribute to long-term community investment; and support community resiliency, social stability and collective identity.

USDA seeks to partner with one organization each located in the northeast, southern, midwestern and western regions of the United States. The maximum grant award is $250,000. Applicants must provide a 15 percent match in funding. Eligible placemaking plans will provide assistance to rural communities for two years.

Electronic applications must be submitted via grants.gov and a copy of the submission must be emailed to RD.Innovation@usda.gov by midnight Eastern Standard Time on Sept. 10, 2020. For more information, contact Angela.Callie@usda.govor call (202) 568-9738.

USDA encourages applications that will support recommendations made in the Report to the President of the United States from the Task Force on Agriculture and Rural Prosperity (PDF, 5.4 MB).

For people considering a move to a rural area … Broadband is even more important than politics.

Recon Analytics recently published an article, Broadband 2020: how the pandemic changed usage and priorities that is recommended reading for any rural community looking to attract new people.

They start out with the notion that now that as teleworking or telecommuting becomes a greaer norm more people are looking at moving…

A slight majority (50.9%) of Americans that can telecommute are contemplating moving to a smaller city or town as the pandemic has prompted many Americans to reevaluate their priorities and living conditions.

They highlight the reasons that people won’t move…

Clearly, a community can’t do much about the first part – a pay cut. But broadband and healthcare are things a community can change. It takes money, planning, a provider – well most readers will know exactly what it takes, but knowing how many people are looking to move and that broadband and healthcare are qualifiers to choosing a community, highlights both broadband and healthcare costs as investments.

Another important factor, is the definition of broadband…

Where does your community stand with broadband access? The MN County broadband maps came out earlier this summer – so you can find out, which means potential residents can find out too. Will your community make the cut? I’ve talked to enough communities to know that often the answer is that part of the community is well served and parts are not.

When it comes down to it – the research is even more drastic when you get to the household level…

While the lack of widely available broadband is a significant hurdle for cities and towns to attract new residents, it is almost outright disqualifying for housing options: 77.5% of respondents would not move to a place, like a house or apartment, that does not have broadband.

Which students are left behind when learning goes online? Spoiler alert, there’s no spoiler

As every parent, teacher and student in Minnesota waits to hear later today from Governor Walz about how the State recommends schools handling pandemic learning this fall, I think it’s helpful to look at who is left behind when/if we move education online.

Online education is tough enough when all of the tech pieces are there; lack of computer and broadband makes is almost insurmountable. Only last year, report from the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis finds Minnesota is one of the worst states in the country for education achievement gaps. We need to find ways to make that gap more narrow and shallow. Proving access to adequate technology is a small, but necessary step because as the report below shows, technology does not currently help to close that gap. And the irony is, it could.

Here’s the status as Future Ready Schools reports…

The COVID-19 pandemic caused a near-total shutdown of the U.S. school system, forcing more than 55 million students to transition to home-based remote learning practically overnight. In most cases, that meant logging in to online classes and accessing lessons and assignments through a home internet connection.

Sadly, that was not an option for children in one out of three Black, Latino, and American Indian/Alaska Native households. Nationwide, across all racial and ethnic groups, 16.9 million children remain logged out from instruction because their families lack the home internet access necessary to support online learning, a phenomenon known as the “homework gap.”

According to an analysis of data from the 2018 American Community Survey conducted for the Alliance for Excellent Education, National Urban League, UnidosUS, and the National Indian Education Association, millions of households with children under the age of 18 years lack two essential elements for online learning: (1) high-speed home internet service and (2) a computer.

Here’s what they found in Minnesota:

Percentage of Households Without High-Speed Home Internet 19%
Number of Children Without High-Speed Home Internet 264,334

Minnesota By Income

Percentage of Households with Annual Income Less Than $25,000 Without High-Speed Home Internet 40%
Number of Children in Households with Annual Income Less Than $25,000 Without High-Speed Home Internet 50,660
Percentage of Households with Annual Income Between $25,000 and $50,000 Without High-Speed Home Internet 29%
Number of Children in Households with Annual Income Between $25,000 and $50,000 Without High-Speed Home Internet 66,298
Percentage of Households with Annual Income Between $50,000 and $75,000 Without High-Speed Home Internet 24%
Number of Children in Households with Annual Income Between $50,000 and $75,000 Without High-Speed Home Internet 44,869
Percentage of Households with Annual Income Between $75,000 and $150,000 Without High-Speed Home Internet 15%
Number of Children in Households with Annual Income Between $75,000 and $150,000 Without High-Speed Home Internet 74,704
Percentage of Households with Annual Income Greater Than $150,000 Without High-Speed Home Internet 9%
Number of Children in Households with Annual Income Greater Than $150,000 Without High-Speed Home Internet 27,803

Minnesota By Race

Percentage of White Households Without High-Speed Home Internet 17%
Number of White Children Without High-Speed Home Internet 184,337
Percentage of Asian Households Without High-Speed Home Internet 14%
Number of Asian Children Without High-Speed Home Internet 12,461
Percentage of Black Households Without High-Speed Home Internet 27%
Number of Black Children Without High-Speed Home Internet 44,036
Percentage of Latino Households Without High-Speed Home Internet 35%
Number of Latino Children Without High-Speed Home Internet 30,226
Percentage of American Indian/Alaska Native Households Without High-Speed Home Internet 37%
Number of American Indian/Alaska Native Children Without High-Speed Home Internet 9,655

Minnesota By Location

Percentage of Nonmetro “Rural” Households Without High-Speed Home Internet 29%
Number of Children in Nonmetro “Rural” Households Without High-Speed Home Internet 79,087
Percentage of Metro Households Without High-Speed Home Internet 17%
Number of Children in Metro Households Without High-Speed Home Internet 182,209

 

COVID exacerbates the gap between haves and have-nots – starting with healthcare facilities vs broadband providers

High Plains Journal reports on a recent webinar on rural telehealth…

A July 15 webinar on those issues was hosted by Kevin Oliver, lead relationship manager at CoBank, part of the Farm Credit System that supports key initiatives in both rural broadband and healthcare. Titled “COVID-19 Impacts On Rural Healthcare and Broadband,” it is the fourth in the “From the Farmgate” series of webinars sponsored by CoBank. The speakers were Rick Breuer, CEO of Community Memorial Hospital, located in a rural area of Minnesota just west of Duluth; and Catherine Moyer, CEO of Pioneer Communications, which provides connectivity services in western Kansas via coaxial cable, copper wire, fiber and wireless.

I was especially interested in the bottom line impact to the broadband providers versus the healthcare facilities (the tele vs the health)…

Oliver noted that the cost dynamic was different for health care facilities and communications. Health care facilities saw a simultaneous increase in costs and decreases in revenue. On the other hand, communications companies have added customers and grown more quickly than they might have otherwise. While some payments are in arrears, “most of those arrears will be collectible,” said Moyer—whether from customers, or by laws like the Critical Connections Act that reimburses communications companies. Moyer said Pioneer had “donated” about $500,000 worth of connection services that may or may not be reimbursed.

Breuer said he doesn’t expect revenues at the hospital to return to anything like their full levels for at least a year.  The hospital has managed to avoid layoffs or furloughs, “but we’re getting [through] by the skin of our teeth.” Whatever happens with COVID, he said, “telehealth will definitely be part of our future. Home and hospital connections are equally important, since telehealth often happens from home.”

Breuer noted that until recently, he had to drive his kids into town to access hot spots so they could do their homework. One hospital sectioned off part of its parking lot for customer parking to use its hot spot, whether for medical tele-visits or other reasons. He also noted the vulnerability of rural networks, with little or no redundancy. He said one gnawing squirrel recently took down connectivity for a 50-square-mile area.

His hospital could not have kept its doors open without help from 10 separate funding organizations, said Breuer—but that in turn created a lot of documentation paperwork. He said independent clinics have been the worst-hit by the COVID crisis, especially those that service mostly rural populations but that don’t technically qualify as rural health clinics for one reason or another. Breuer supports changing those designations to allow more clinics to be helped.

Moyer supports what she calls contribution reform. Bill surcharges are based on an outdated model of long-distance service, now that texting has taken the place of phone calls for many. Fortunately, “the COVID crisis has focused the attention of many in Congress. I’ve been talking about all these connectivity issues for 20 years,” she said. “The silver lining is a lot of other people are focused on this issue now too.”

For so many years, the providers have invested (often with public support) in the networks that have made millions for private industry without reaping the same benefit. (A couple years ago, I looked at the community ROI of public investment in rural broadband – the community sees the return much more quickly than the provider.) It will be interesting to see what happens with healthcare and telecom/broadband. Many broadband providers are being generous with free/low cost connection right now and hopefully that will be an investment in a future paying customer. While the hospitals are in a different situation – the article points out that “163 rural hospitals have closed and about 600 more are vulnerable, or a third of all rural hospitals in the United States.“

Broadband Roundtable on Minnesota Rural Mental Health and Telehealth Notes

Today we talked about rural mental health and telehealth. My favorite takeaway is that increased use, social acceptance and funding for telehealth might be one of the few silver linings of the COVID19 pandemic. A big thanks to everyone who joined today the experts on the our call:

  • Mark Jones, MRHA Executive Director
  • Sue Aberholden, NAMI Minnesota Executive Director & MRHA Board member
  • Teri Fritsma, lead research scientist, MDH Health Workforce Planning and Analysis

We started with a great overview from Teri on who/how/where people are using telehealth in Minnesota. It has picked up considerably since the pandemic and people who can access it are finding that it’s been a great tool. (Many plan to continue use post-COVID19.)

Sue talked about the efficacy when the conditions are right. Telehealth is easier for many patients and their support people (parents, kids, spouses, employers) becuase it requires no travel. But there are challenges with limited broadband, minutes of smartphanes, privacay issues. I loved the story of the procuring headsets for teens to increase privacay at home. Anyone of an age, where maybe you were asked to the promo on the kitchen phone, knows the utter lack of privacay. I’m glad there are better solutions now.

Mark talked about policy changes that have happened and need to happen. Two biggies – reminburesemnt for distance appointments and abaility to use technology that was not previously allowed due to HIPPA. Removing those barriers really opened up opportunities.

We heard from Mary DeVany, gpTRAC. They have the ability to offer assistance!

Finally we learned abotu Mobile Mental Health Crisis Teams. They are in every county. It’s the group you’d want to call in a mental health emergency. And there are efforts to get them connected with 911 – so that they can help triage folks to the police or mental health experts.

Chat Transcript:

  • 00:35:25              Ann Treacy:        Here’s a link to NAMI MN for workplace – Sue may have something more specific
  • https://namimn.org/education-public-awareness/workplace/
  • 00:59:11              Mary DeVany, gpTRAC:  Just a bit of information…If you are looking for more information about telehealth, please know that the Great Plains Telehealth Resource & Assistance Center (gpTRAC.org) is available with resources and can assist with training and building awareness.  We are a federally-funded program out of Univ. of Minnesota.
  • 01:08:31              Natalie Matthewson:      Will we get the slides that Teri used for her presentation?

Many advantages to living in rural MN – broadband isn’t always sone of them

Channel 6 News (Rochester MN) uses a recent report from the Center for Rural Policy and Development To talk about the cost and advantages of living in rural Minnesota…

Several local representatives agree with the benefits but say work can still be done to keep our region connected and thriving in this digital age.
The report states that an average adult would have to make $20 per hour hypothetically to live in the twin cities metro.

By taking a trip south on Interstate 35 or Highway 52, you could see that average drop to $14 per hour.
This quite possibly, making rural Minnesota a more attractive location for families.

Access to broadband is one exception…

But there’s at least one issue that many lawmakers continue to fight for in rural Minnesota.
Access to high-speed internet could give families more of the freedom to decide where they want to live and work from in a COVID-19 world.
“If there is access to high-speed broadband, I see a real rural renaissance where families choose to live in our smaller towns,” Sen. Nelson said.

I’m glad that they are aware of the issue and are prioritizing equitable access to broadband. I want to point out that while some areas in rural Minnesota don’t have adequate access, some have very good access. I mention this both to recoginze the areas that do have good access but also to point out that leaves the areas without access in gerater peril in terms of sustaining and growing their population.

With COVID-19, Telehealth was implemented quickly in rural area – they need more help

Broawnfield Ag News reports…

Rick Breuer, CEO of Minnesota-based Community Memorial Hospital, says they were going to spend a year preparing a telehealth platform for the community and instead had it ready in two weeks because of COVID-19.

“A lot of rural facilities were in the exact same boat because you just had to if you were going to maintain viable service,” he says. “So, we did it and we had a great team that got it up and running and we had very patient providers willing to work through all the bugs,” he says.

He says telehealth services will remain in place long after the country recovers from the pandemic.

Breuer and Moyer say assistance from the administration has helped, but more must be done in the future.

Breuer says there are some rural clinics that haven’t been eligible for assistance, but he hopes they will be soon. Moyer says she’s hopeful Congress will address universal service and the Keeping Critical Connections Act.

WiFi is essential to farmers and farmworkers – seasonal and all-season

The Daily Yonder reports…

Long before the annual fruit harvest began this year, local public health officials and community leaders were discussing how to support farmworkers and their families during the quarantine. While most conversations focused on housing and personal protective equipment, it quickly became clear that the internet would be critical for two reasons: accessing non-emergency Telemedicine services and providing education for children of farmworkers unable to attend their usual in-person summer classes.

The communities they are talking about span Oregon and Washington – but the picture they paint could be in Minnesota with seasonal and year-round households in rural areas. The article talks about the surveying folks, finding solutions (from WiFi to satellite) but it’s the what, how and why they do it that seems apt for us in MN…

In an effort similar to Dave Anderson’s, the Columbia Gorge Education Service District sought funding through the Covid-19 Gorge Community Response Fund, a partnership between the United Way of the Columbia Gorge and the Healthy Gorge Initiative. The Fund awarded $10,000 to directly support summer education for children of farmworkers through 10 wifi hot spots and satellite phones for instructors in areas without cell service.

“Students haven’t had class for three to four months,” said Jonathan Fost, Migrant Education Program Director. “And now it’s such a bonus and such a bright spot in their day. It’s saying, ‘somebody cares, they’re caring about me and providing academics to me in a safe place, and in an open-air classroom.’”

According to Jonathan, students also access wifi for STEM-based activities that get them moving, exploring nature, and playing games.

While Telemedicine and education are arguably the most important wifi applications, farmworkers are also using the internet for other purposes. Thus far, news, science, and technology are the most frequently searched items.

Wifi interest among farmworkers was instantaneous, according to Hailey Elliott, owner of Tenneson Orchards. When she announced that wifi was available, workers immediately began requesting the password.

“It’s a really nice amenity to allow farmworkers to do things like online bill pay, sending emails to companies, and doing general business,” said Ashley Thompson.

While Covid-related challenges remain, expanding wifi access in orchards has alleviated some of the strain of the pandemic in the Columbia Gorge. The commitment by community organizations and local businesses to this effort also sends the message to farmworkers that they are valuable members of the community, and that their health and safety matter.

Highlighting the benefits of telethealth in treating mental health in rural MN

MinnPost interviews Kristi K. Phillips, chair of the American Psychological Association’s (APA) Committee on Rural Health, Phillips, who lives with her family in Litchfield, about the impact of telehealth in rural Minnestoa…

MP: I grew up in a small town. Back then nobody talked about their mental health. I’ve lived in the city for decades and many people here now seem pretty comfortable talking about mental illness. Are attitudes changing in rural communities?

KP: There is still a perceived and real stigma in rural communities about seeking mental health care. If you’ve ever been to a waiting room in a rural clinic, many times it’s like a social hour. It seems like everybody’s there. When you are wanting a zone of privacy around your mental health, this kind of thing makes people hesitant to go in.

One silver lining is telehealth. Since COVID hit, and I’ve been able to provide remote mental health services. Because of that, I’ve seen more famers and farm families than ever. More clients are willing to meet with me via telehealth because it offers more privacy. They don’t need to come into the clinic and risk seeing all their neighbors in the waiting room.

MP: Clearly the privacy that telehealth provides is a major plus. Do you see other benefits to remote therapy?

KP: Things are just so much more spread out in the country. I’ve had clients who’ve had to drive an hour each way to see me. At harvest time, that kind of time commitment is just not possible. Telehealth opens up new options. I can be working with patients wherever they are. They can have an appointment on their smartphones. My therapy appointments last 45 minutes to one hour. Telehealth makes that time commitment more obtainable for busy people. And we can schedule appointments at flexible times. I can work around their schedules.

MP: That flexibility is probably important, because people are juggling so much right now.

KP: Since I began offering telehealth, I’ve had almost a zero percentage of no shows. That’s completely the opposite of how it is for in-person appointments. If someone isn’t there at the scheduled time, I can almost always reach them: Most people carry their cellphones with them wherever they go. Maybe they’ve been distracted and forgotten their appointment. When I reach them on the phone, they’ll say, “I completely forgot the time. Let me pull over.” They can meet with me wherever they’re at.

MP: Is telehealth particularly helpful in Greater Minnesota, where mental health providers are few and far between?

KP: In Litchfield we are an underserved shortage area for mental health care. This is where I think telehealth can be especially helpful. If people don’t show for their in-person appointments, it is difficult to fill. We don’t have many of those kinds of issues with telehealth. People who are actually registered for appointments are getting seen. And we can see more patients in a day. People don’t feel like they have to take a half day off work just to travel to an appointment. They can say, “I’ll see you over my lunch hour,” and we can make that happen.

There are so many benefits that have come from telehealth. It’s unfortunate it took a pandemic for us to finally get comfortable with using these tools to make our lives better.

MP: After hearing your enthusiasm, it almost seems silly to ask you this, but do you see any disadvantages to telehealth?

KP: You do miss some of the micro-expressions that you’d observe in person. Some clients say they find telehealth impersonal or uncomfortable. But the benefits exponentially outweigh those types of issues.

MP: Do you hope to continue offering telehealth as an option for patients into the future?

KP: Yes. The majority of my patients want to be seen by telehealth.