As we continue to navigate the pandemic, it is more important than ever that telehealth is widely accessible and a viable alternative to in-person visits with health care providers.
However, without access to affordable, high-quality, high-speed internet service, telehealth is not an option for many North Carolina residents.
North Carolina Department of Information Technology (NCDIT) Broadband Infrastructure Office (BIO) works to expand broadband access and promote broadband adoption across the state. Additionally, BIO is actively working to increase access to telehealth. In partnership with the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS) Office of Rural Health (ORH), BIO is leading a robust digital inclusion and telehealth project, the Healthy and Connect-ed Workforce Initiative, to increase digital literacy and expand access to health care for disad-vantaged and vulnerable residents in Macon, Madison and Mitchell counties.
Increasing access to quality healthcare through telehealth, broadband adoption and increased digital literacy will both improve the health of residents and enhance their ability to actively partici-pate in the local workforce.
In October 2020, BIO, in partnership with ORH, was awarded $633,940 by the Appalachian Re-gional Commission (ARC) and a matching award of $97,200 from the Dogwood Health Trust for the project.
The project will take a three-pronged approach. ORH will develop a Telehealth Technical Assis-tance model to provide support to health care sites across North Carolina interested in increas-ing access to care via telehealth. The project partners will launch three pilot programs in Macon, Madison and Mitchell counties to test and refine the implementation of telehealth programs. BIO and ORH will work with the Knight School of Communication at Queens University of Charlotte to develop a health and digital literacy curricula for the telehealth pilot program participants. Partici-pants will receive computers, digital and health literacy skills training and 50 percent of a monthly subscription fee for internet service from a local provider – provided by the DHT matching grant to the program – to foster broadband adoption and use.
The Healthy and Connected Workforce Initiative responds to a year-long feasibility study con-ducted by BIO and ORH that examined the broadband, health care and telehealth assets – in-cluding the health disparities and broadband gaps as well as opportunities – for the 20 counties in North Carolina’s Appalachian region that are most affected by the coal industry. The study was completed by the project’s partners with support from a Partnerships for Opportunity and Work-force and Economic Revitalization (POWER) award.
The project is is expected to aid 124 organizations, 180 patients, 135 households and 180 partic-ipants throughout the grant’s life cycle. The project partners will work with the local councils of governments, safety net sites and other community partners to implement the program.
About NCDIT’s Broadband Infrastructure Office
NCDIT’s Broadband Infrastructure Office leads the statewide initiatives to expand high-speed internet access, adoption and use for all North Carolinians and serves as a statewide resource for broadband access, first responder communications and state-led classroom connectivity initiatives. In 2019, Gov. Roy Cooper issued Executive Order 91 (EO91), which lays out clear directives to expand broadband across the state through a task force comprised of cabinet agencies, which the office facilitates and supports. In partnership with the Friday Institute, the office is currently conducting a survey to gather better data on broadband availability and quality in the state. To learn more and to take the survey, visit ncbroadband.gov/survey.