Kandiyohi County commits $1.3 million ARP funding to broadband

Gov Tech reports

Kandiyohi County, as part of the federal American Rescue Plan coronavirus relief package, will receive over the next year approximately $8.3 million. The funds can be used to pay for a wide range of projects, programs and personnel, as long as it can be tied back to the COVID-19 pandemic.

An area getting a lot of attention is high-speed broadband. The rules of the American Rescue Plan say funds can be used for critical infrastructure projects, including broadband investments that can provide 1,000 megabits per second upload and download speeds.

At a work session June 10, there was a consensus of the Kandiyohi County Board of Commissioners to spend a large chunk of the county’s allotment, perhaps as much as 75 percent, to help fund several broadband improvement projects across the county.

Here are the specifics…

The County Board began to make good on that consensus Tuesday, committing $1,314,386 to a project that will expand high-speed broadband to Dovre, Mamre, St. Johns and Arctander townships.

Checking in with MN community broadband leaders around Minnesota

It’s always fun to check in with the Blandin Broadband Communities (BBC) participating community leaders. Today the Blandin Broadband team checked in with a few of the communities. It was a look back at what I’ll optimistically call the tail end of the pandemic and a helpful look at what everyone is expecting moving forward.

We started with a list of how we are all going to use broadband to celebrate summer. But the conversation also well more work-focused practical. Turns out that we have mixed feelings about the transition from online meetings to live-only or hybrids. It seems like we landed on hybrids are good when the expectations are honestly set. The conversation also got into practicalities of dealing with state versus federal funding and how those don’t always play well together and how folks are going to handle training in the real-virtual world.

If you’re a community leader and you’re wondering yourself how to handle the role of technology and balancing the transition to “normal” life, this may be an instructive conversation to hear.

Quarantine rules help spread telehealth options for rural moms-to-be in Bemidji

The Bemidji Pioneer reports

If there’s a silver lining to the COVID-19 pandemic, it may be how it sped up a change in prenatal care that could improve outcomes for rural mothers and babies.

Dr. Johnna Nynas, an OB/GYN physician at Sanford Health in Bemidji, discussed her hospital’s move to offering virtual visits during the past year.

“We started laying the groundwork a couple of years ago,” said Nynas. “We looked at implementing a virtual visit option that provided patients with some equipment to monitor their pregnancies at home, including a blood pressure cuff, and then a Doppler, so they can listen to their baby at home. But what really thrust us to the forefront and accelerated the timeline was the COVID pandemic.”

Technical and legal challenges involved the interface between patients at home and their medical records. But with the onset of the pandemic, Nynas said, “there were rapid changes in Congress that made it much easier for health care organizations to initiate telehealth.”

They need better broadband…

There are still barriers that need to be addressed, such as broadband and cellular access in rural areas and for lower-income families. And there are days when the technology doesn’t work as well as others, and doctors have to make do with voice-only telephone visits.

Still, Nynas said, virtual visits will likely continue even after COVID-19 fades from public awareness.

There is a need…

The disparity is real. Nynas quoted shocking statistics: 23 percent of American women live in rural areas, but only 6% of OB/GYNs practice in rural areas. “That’s the challenge that we’re up against,” she said.

The benefit of prenatal care is also real, even for women whose pregnancies are considered low-risk. “It’s better to connect with prenatal care and get that care when and however you can,” said Nynas, “because getting no prenatal care is definitely correlated with worse outcomes.”

At the same time, the costs of running a labor and delivery unit while performing fewer deliveries are widening the gap between rural patients and the care they need. “That’s where being able to offer services remotely can be a really helpful thing,” she said.

More white patients get COVID tested via telehealth; more black patients tested in ER

The UK Daily Mail reports…

White patients were more likely to be screened for Covid-19 during telehealth visits during the pandemic than their peers of other races, a new study suggests.

A research team led by members of the Hennepin Healthcare Research Institute analyzed health record data at Hennepin Healthcare, a safety net hospital in Minneapolis, Minnesota, to gauge when people were tested for COVID-19 based on a variety of demographic factors.

Researchers found that white patients were significantly more likely to receive a Covid-19 test than all other racial groups when they performed a doctors visit via telehealth, accounting for 64.5 percent of all tests.

Black patients received only nine percent of Covid-19 screenings performed by telehealth, while accounting for 45 percent of tests performed in an emergency department.

Black and white patients were around evenly likely to receive a Covid-19 screening in an in-patient setting, at 35.7 percent and 37.6 percent respectfully.

Researchers noted that patients who were receiving their tests in an emergency room or in-patient setting were more likely to need more intensive treatment, as their case of the virus was caught later than those who were screened via telehealth.

Non-English speakers were also tested less online (and off)…

Patients who speak English received a majority of the screenings no matter the setting, including a whopping 88 percent of screenings  performed via telehealth, and nearly 70 percent of tests overall.

They give some reasons…

Not all Americans have access to the stable internet connection necessary to access telehealth.

There is also a problem with insurers not knowing how to bill the visits properly, though many states, like Illinois, have passed laws regulating telehealth visits as normal doctor visits in terms of insurance and billing, preventing patients from being denied these visits by their insurance.

Researchers may have found another potential disparity in this study, though, as more research goes into the system that may be the future of medical care.

Health equity in Covid-19 testing was a problem early on in the pandemic as well, with the CDC reporting that ethnic minorities often faced barriers such as discrimination, transportation, lack of health care and more to not receiving same access as their white counterparts.

Many underserved, primarily minority, communities also were left without the needed supply of tests early on in the pandemic.

Pipestone County thinks about American Rescue Plan – broadband comes up

The Pipestone Star reports

Pipestone County has received $886,309.50 from the American Rescue Plan, the $1.9 trillion economic stimulus bill passed by Congress and signed into law by Pres. Biden earlier this year.
That’s half of the $1,772,619 the county will receive through the program. The county will receive the second half in May 2022.

Broadband is an option for investment…

County Administrator Steve Ewing said during the May 25 Pipestone County Commissioner meeting that the county has until Dec. 31, 2024 to incur and obligate the funds and until Dec. 31, 2026 to expend the funds and complete all work. He said the information about what the funds can be used for is still “somewhat vague.”
According to the U.S. Department of the Treasury, the funds can be used to support public health response to the pandemic, address negative economic impacts caused by the pandemic, aid communities and populations hardest hit by the crisis, replace lost public sector revenue, provide premium pay for essential workers, and invest in water, sewer and broadband infrastructure.

It sounds like they have at least considered it…

“There is a clause in there that says if small units of government don’t want to use it, they can in turn give it to the county and we can utilize their money to build a nest egg for other larger projects,” Ewing said. “We could partner with some of the townships on some broadband possibilities too.”

$288 Million in Funding Available to States to Build Broadband Infrastructure

From Broadband USA (NTIA)…

NTIA recently announced the availability of $288 million in grant funding for the deployment of broadband infrastructure. Grants will be awarded to covered partnerships between a state, or political subdivisions of a state, and providers of fixed broadband service.

NTIA’s Broadband Infrastructure Program was established by the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021. In the priority order defined by the Act, NTIA will accept applications for projects that are designed to:

  1. Provide broadband service to the greatest number of households in an eligible service area;
  2. Provide broadband service in an eligible service area that is wholly within any area other than a county, city, or town with more than 50,000 inhabitants and the urbanized area contiguous and adjacent to a city or town of more than 50,000 inhabitants;
  3. Be the most cost-effective, prioritizing such projects in areas that are the most rural;
  4. Provide broadband service with a download speed of at least 100 Mbps and an upload speed of at least 20 Mbps;
  5. Meet the requirements of this NOFO.

More information about the program, including requirements for grant applications, can be found in the Notice of Funding Opportunity. NTIA is also holding a series of webinars to further inform the public about the program. The upcoming Broadband Infrastructure webinars will be held on June 9 and 10.

Cook County on top of COVID – broadband helps

The Daily Yonder recently did a story on how well Cook County has done with beating COVID…

What if I could show you a rural county where vaccination rates are leading the way, surpassing statewide trends and even beating out core metro counties? A rural county where transmission rates have remained low and local businesses helped lead the way on masking and social distancing? A rural county where, more than a year later, no local residents have lost their lives to Covid-19?

You know where this is going. To show you all of these things, I would show you Cook County, Minnesota.

The article mentions the role of broadband…

In recounting it all, Grinager is also quick to address another issue that must be confronted in any rural story like this: “Broadband hasn’t been an issue. We actually have really good broadband access here,” she said.

It makes sense;  Cook County ranks number 14 (out of 87) for broadband access at speeds of 100 Mbps down and 20 Mbps down.

Minnesota voice on federal broadband call – “hiding in car with hotspot to do work online”

Public News Service reports

Vice President Kamala Harris hosted a virtual listening session on the digital divide affecting many parts of America.
A Minnesota woman, who is a college student and mother, was able to relay her story to the White House this week.
Amanda Schermerhorn, federal legislative advocacy fellow for Lead Minnesota, a recent graduate of Minnesota State Community and Technical College and mother of four, talked about her balancing act, which included helping her kids with remote learning, while also trying to manage her online classes.
“I found myself hiding in my car on my mobile hotspot, often, trying to do my work while my kids were on their Zoom classes, or even in the parking lot of my closed college campus,” Schermerhorn outlined.
Schermerhorn plans to further her college career and work as a civil-rights attorney. She emphasized her family was able to persist.
Advocates for expanding broadband access say such examples are too common. The Biden administration proposed $100 billion in broadband funding in its infrastructure plan. And while boosting access has bipartisan support in Congress, Republicans have said the overall public-works plan is too large.
Schermerhorn pointed out her family’s rural setting has played a large role in their inability to stay connected at a level that meets their needs.
“We don’t have fiber-optic cables running through our home,” Schermerhorn explained. “They run under the road near our home, but that’s nearly two football fields away.”

A Guide to help libraries build telehealth centers

Something for my librarian friends, a guide helps libraries build telehealth centers – Shhhhhh! The Doctor’s In. Guide to Connecting Library Patrons to Better Health

This guide lays out how to a) get to the heart of patrons’ healthcare needs, b) create something that’s never been done in your community before, and c) market your telehealth and broadband grant proposal. More than video chats, telehealth uses intranets and Internet networks to observe, diagnose, initiate or otherwise medically intervene, administer, monitor, record, and/or report on the continuum of care people receive when ill, injured, or wanting to stay well. I’ll take this definition one step further and differentiate between 1) real-time telehealth, 2) store-and-forward telehealth, and 3) “passive” telehealth.

A little more info…

This guide lays out a straightforward needs assessment process so you get a representative portrait of how telehealth can benefit the community. Libraries reach out and touch virtually everyone in their communities across the entire economic spectrum, so it’s quite exciting to imagine telehealth capabilities at work. Healthcare professionals weigh in on how to get the maximum impact from telehealth technology in your library. The guide also gives you tips and pointers on getting the best from your IT investment. Not only does it address access to broadband but also broadband and telehealth adoption and training. Ultimately, it takes funding to transform community dreams into reality. The guide offers insights into federal grant programs that fund libraries and telehealth: the FCC’s E-rate program, the Institute for Museums and Library Services (IMLS), and Health & Human Services (HHS), plus links to other valuable resources that help you.

Student Home Connectivity Study: how students do homework in 13 rural, urban and suburban school districts

The Consortium for School Networking (CoSN) has released a study on Student Home Connectivity. It looks at how students were able to get online from home in 13 US school districts. They look at speeds, devices, mobility and other factors that impact a student’s ability to do their homework. School districts include urban, rural and suburban school districts with an eye toward providing actionable recommendations for policymakers.

Here’s a summary of their findings…

The findings and recommendations in this report are divided into four distinct topics. The recommendations in this report should be considered a guide for school leaders to support local decisions. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to implementing supports for student home internet connectivity. In fact, it is evident that no one solution will meet the needs of all students. Therefore, school districts must use a variety of strategies and interventions to ensure digital equity. The findings in this report are organized into four topics:

  1. Learning with Video is Essential for Education
  2. Students are Mobile and Rely on WiFi
  3. Certain Communities, Especially Remote and Rural Areas, Require More Support and Resources
  4. The Remote Learning Experience is Significantly Impacted by Device Quality

Learning with Video is Essential for Education

  • Over 85% of network traffic in remote learning is used for video (both synchronous and asynchronous).
  • A sufficient upload speed is critical for uninterrupted participation in synchronous video.
  • A sufficient download speed is critical for uninterrupted viewing of synchronous or asynchronous video.
  • Video-intensive content and applications are increasing in use and this trend is expected to continue for the foreseeable future.

Students are Mobile and Rely on WiFi

  • Many students participate in online learning activities outside of the student’s home, including joining from peers’ homes, and even attending classes from other cities, states, and countries.
  • 92% of students use WiFi instead of a wired connection, which makes it critical to address home WiFi issues.
  • Alongside district-provided devices, students often concurrently use mobile devices, such as their personal phone or tablet, which contributes to increased home bandwidth needs.

Certain Communities, Especially in Remote and Rural Areas, Require More Support and Resources

  • Students in more remote or rural areas most often have limited internet access.
  • Students working in areas with a large concentration of students may experience poor connectivity.
  • Even students from higher socioeconomic families have frequent problems in remote learning/online meeting experiences.

The Remote Learning Experience is Significantly Impacted by Device Quality

  • Quality of student experience can be impacted by age, type, and quality of device, as well as device configuration (i.e., user authentication and network filtering tools).
  • Student experience can be improved by routinely collecting datasets that provide insight into the student use of district-provided devices.

2020 increases need for mental health services; telehealth helps meet the need

InForum reports that the events of 2020 have increased the need for great mental health services…

Common reasons people have sought therapy recently have been anxiety; depression; stress about the pandemic, parenting or job stability; loneliness; or increased substance use. Clabaugh said many clients are also grieving, whether it be the loss of friends or family to the pandemic or the loss of a job or stability in life. People also have been stressed about political events like the 2020 presidential election, or worry about various conspiracy theories online regarding politics and the pandemic.

To meet the increased demand, counseling centers have hired more clinicians in the last year, and some continue to add more therapists to take on new patients. Erickson said the appointment openings for new clinicians will fill within a week or two, and then will have a three- to four-week waiting list like the rest of the clinicians. Clabaugh said when she opened Insight Counseling almost four years ago, she planned to have two or three therapists, but now she has 20 because the demand has always been so high.

Telehealth has helped counselors reach more people…

At Arrowhead Psychological Clinic, psychologist Dave Plude sees clients from Sandstone to Ely, and from Brainerd to Grand Marais. For many clients, the use of video or phone sessions has been a more convenient option in many ways. Plude said once clients overcame the learning curve of the technology, many people would rather call in from home or their cars than drive up to four hours round-trip for an hourlong session.

“It’s been kind of fun,” he said. “It’s enjoyable to be able to offer good clinical care to people in smaller towns who might not have as much access to it historically.”

It looks like virtual is here to stay for a while…

While telehealth has been offered at many clinics for a while now, it’s never been used as much as it has been in the pandemic. At Arrowhead, Plude said last summer, 80% of their sessions were via video or phone, and they went to 100% virtual last fall during the surge of COVID-19 cases. While many are now returning to in-person sessions, Plude said quite a few are fine with staying virtual. Some will start sessions in person, then switch to telehealth after they get comfortable with their therapist.

A permanent change in policy would make it easier…

U.S. senators introduced a bill at the beginning of May to continue access to telehealth services with Medicare after the pandemic. CONNECT for Health is one of more than 20 bills introduced this Congress about the future of telehealth.

But regardless of the specifics of insurance coverage or other future rules related to telehealth therapy services, all three therapists said they plan to continue offering video sessions at their clinics.

Telehealth is here to stay in rural Minnesota

WCCO TV reports

WCCO found the successes and the future of the practice for some patients in outstate Minnesota.

A former firefighter and medic, it was a bad fall after retirement that put Bart Cedergren in a wheelchair.

He lives up north with his wife. The three doctor visits a month could take much of the day, but are now done in a fraction of the time because they’re all online.

“Telemedicine I think is the wave of the future,” Cedergren said. “The only thing we go in for these days are basically lab.”

Family Nurse Practitioner Janelle Terhaar now dedicates one full office day a week in Long Prairie to her telehealth patients.

“We went from maybe having one or two a month to now we’re maybe having steady patients every day,” Terhaar said.

From parents with a sick child, behavioral health, and an older population, Terhaar says patient profiles come from all over and that even web cams don’t lie.

Better broadband planned for Cass and Crow Wing County

Brainerd Dispatch reports

More than 12 miles of fiber to improve broadband availability in the city of Pequot Lakes are planned for this year, the Echo Journal reported May 12.

The broadband internet to be installed by TDS Telecom would become available to another 1,080 service addresses in the city. TDS expects to install about 60 miles of fiber between Cass and Crow Wing counties by the end of the summer, including 100-megabyte service in Breezy Point, Jenkins, Pine River, Backus and Hackensack.

Telehealth is one way to help mental health resources reach rural Minnesota

The Bemidji Pioneer reports on Mental Health month…

May marks Mental Health Awareness Month in the United States, and during the last year, the topic has been increasingly brought to the forefront due to the coronavirus pandemic.

They recognize the challenge of reaching rural areas and the advantage telehealth brings

Outside of hub communities in the state like Bemidji, though, mental health resources can be scarce. Mulvihill said getting treatment options into more rural areas has been an effort by the organization recently.

“It’s certainly something we acknowledge that we have to just do a lot better on,” Mulvihill said. “It is a lot harder to find a mental health provider in Greater Minnesota, it’s just the reality. I think there have been some movement around telehealth certainly during the pandemic and we have really been advocating to maintain the things that were kind of made temporary with telehealth.”

While Mulvihill acknowledged telehealth options aren’t a fix for everyone, Mulvihill said it does provide a solution for a segment of the population.

Harmony Telephone to apply for broadband grant with City of Harmony

The Fillmore County Journal reports

A public hearing to discuss the application of a grant from the Small Cities Coronavirus Community Development Block Grant Program was held at the beginning of the May 11 Harmony City Council meeting. Harmony Telephone would like to apply for it in conjunction with the City of Harmony so that the every home in town would have access to broadband internet. The grant would pay for the buried fiber and Harmony Telephone would cover the cost of the electronics necessary for the project. No questions or comments were received from the public and the hearing was closed. The council approved a participation plan and Resolution 21-08 regarding the application for the grant.