Guest Commentary: Building healthier communities for rural residents who power America

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David Baker is the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s state director for Delaware and Maryland.

As we celebrate National Rural Health Day this year, we are 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 the Mid-Atlantic and Eastern Shore. At the United States Department of Agriculture, we are hard at work offering 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 Delaware and Maryland, 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.

At the Department of Agriculture’s 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, created by President Joe 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.

In Pocomoke City, Maryland, Emergency Medical Services used a $306,000 Emergency Rural Health Care Grant to replace an aging ambulance that had over 200,000 miles on it. The new ambulance was delivered with state-of-the-art technologies that meet safety standards developed following the COVID-19 pandemic, keeping crew and patients safer.

We also know that increasing access to telemedicine and distance learning on the Eastern Shore is critical to building healthier and more resilient communities.

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 & Telemedicine Grants program, we are making it easier for people living in rural areas to access health care services remotely.

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 Delaware and Maryland, we continue to work hand in hand with our partners and local community leaders to promote a healthy community and environment through our Water & 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.

In Millsboro, a new water treatment facility is being constructed with the help of a Rural Development Water & Waste Disposal Loan & Grant. The town’s current facility has not been able to consistently meet effluent permit limitations. The new facility will help ensure the health and safety of the local wastewater service for rural residents served by the town.

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, rd.usda.gov, or by calling 302-857-3580.

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