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Could You Qualify for a Federal Distance Learning & Telemedicine (DLT) Grant?

USDA Rural DevelopmentThe U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development Office provides skilled nursing facilities, long-term care facilities and other healthcare providers in geographically isolated areas with a powerful tool for expanding the range and improving the quality of the care that they provide. Through the Distance Learning and Telemedicine Loan and Grant Program (DLT), the organization offers several types of grants and loans that can be used in a variety of ways.

DLT 100 Percent Grant Applications

Prospective grant recipients can apply for DLT grants during a competitive application window that’s typically announced after the first of the year through a “Notice of Funds Availability” in the Federal Register. Although each applicant is required to prove that they can make a 15 percent match of any funds for which they’re approved, qualified applicants may receive anywhere from $50,000 to $500,000 in grant funds. The size of each award depends on the uses for which it’s earmarked.

DLT 100 Percent Loan Applications

Unlike DLT grants, applications for “100 percent loans” may be accepted at any time during the fiscal year. The bidding process for these loans is noncompetitive and doesn’t require borrowers to provide any matching funds. These loans are provided at competitive interest rates and come with principal balances of anywhere from $50,000 to $10 million.

DLT Combination Loan/Grant Applications

Loan/grant applications also lack a competitive application process or predetermined application window. The bulk of each approved loan/grant combination comes as a loan, but the availability of a grant portion that doesn’t need to be repaid can be a powerful incentive for facilities with limited budgeting flexibility. Like DLT loans, these vehicles come with principal balances of $50,000 to $10 million.

Approved Uses for DLT Funding

The Rural Development Office allows approved borrowers or grantees to use their funds for a variety of purposes, many of which involve the purchase of capital equipment for use in telemedicine applications. All three types of financing can be used to purchase:

  • Audio/visual equipment, including interactive telemedicine equipment
  • Terminal equipment
  • Computer hardware and software
  • Network components that enhance or enable telemedicine connections

Grants, loans and grant/loan combinations can also be used to cover the cost of technical assistance, instruction and programming material to aid with the rollout or adoption of new telemedicine systems.

Additionally, 100 percent loan vehicles can be used to cover the total operating costs of a new telemedicine program – along with any distance learning component for staff members – for its first two years of operation. Recipients of 100 percent loans and loan/grant combinations are free to use their funds for:

  • The purchase of land or buildings for the construction of new telemedicine facilities
  • Costs associated with the renovation or alteration of existing structures
  • The purchase of telecommunications lines or systems that can accommodate telemedicine equipment
  • Intra-facility telemedicine links for the purposes of student instruction or staff development
Practical Successes and Solutions

These grants and loans have positively impacted health systems and facilities – and the patients and residents who use them – across the country. Examples include:

  • In Arkansas, Baptist Health secured a $600,000 grant to install telemedicine technology at nine rural hospitals to reduce rural residents’ wait times for appointments with specialists based in Little Rock
  • In Idaho, grants of nearly $800,000 helped to establish telemedicine services for the radiology department at St. Mary’s and Clearwater Valley Hospitals
  • In Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa, Gundersen Clinic received several grants that totaled more than $500,000 to fund telemedicine services that provided multiple outlying clinics with access to radiological specialists

These are just a few of the examples of telemedicine’s power to enhance care at rural health facilities while improving outcomes and patient satisfaction. If your organization faces challenges or limitations for which telemedicine could prove beneficial, it would do well to apply for a Distance Learning & Telemedicine grant or loan through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development Office.

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