White House Rural Council Blog

  • Transforming Veterans’ Care in Rural Practices Using Health IT

    Ed. note: This is cross-posted from the Health IT Buzz blog. See the original post here.

    A 65-year-old veteran living in a rural community presents at his local Critical Access Hospital (CAH) with symptoms of pneumonia. After evaluating the patient, the physician discharges him with a prescription for antibiotics. What the physician doesn’t know is that his US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) providers had prescribed warfarin (a blood thinner) to help prevent harmful blood clots that may cause a stroke. Yet certain antibiotics, when combined with warfarin, can lead to an adverse drug reaction that could include bleeding or interfere with the protection the anticoagulant (blood thinner) provides, which could lead to a stroke.

    Following the lead of the White House Rural Council, we in the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the VA are working with our public and private partners to ensure rural providers and the communities they serve have health IT tools to help them avoid scenarios like this one.

    Nearly 70% of veterans get health care services at both VA and non-VA clinics and hospitals. The percentage is higher among those veterans who live in rural and frontier areas of the country. In a recent evaluation of the VA Blue Button program conducted by Dr. Carolyn Turvey of the Iowa VA medical center, 52.5% of participants reported they carry information from one provider to another; about 13% indicated their providers use phone, mail or fax; 15% indicated that they do not know how their providers communicate between one another, and 15% reported their providers do not communicate at all. Currently there is no systematic and streamlined way for VA and non-VA health providers to exchange the patients’ health information to coordinate or co-manage care. One solution is to empower patients to initiate electronic transfer of their health information between their health care providers. That’s where our joint work comes in.

  • Working Together to Bring Healthy Foods to Communities in Need

    Recently, representatives from the White House Domestic Policy Council, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Department of Health and Human Services, and the Department of the Treasury joined representatives from various community projects from around the country to discuss how to increase healthy food access to communities in need. The event included representatives from the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, the Food Research and Action Center, PolicyLink, and the Fair Food Network.

    Participants shared their stories of success, and what we can do to encourage more healthy foods in these communities. For example:

    • Mary Donnell, the Executive Director of Green City Growers Cooperative, spoke about her urban greenhouse project in downtown Cleveland, Ohio. After its inception in 2012, Green City Growers has become the largest food production greenhouse in a core urban area in the United States. The cooperative manages over three acres of urban space and employs 25 people from the community. It produces over 3 million heads of lettuce annually, which is then distributed to Cleveland’s most distressed neighborhoods. The organization creates jobs in Cleveland while providing nutritious food to food deserts across the city, one of this Administration’s key goals.
    • Gray Harris, the director of the Sustainable Agriculture Programs at CEI, shared her organization’s story as a Community Development Financial Institution in rural Maine. As a CDFI, CEI invests in community-based projects contributing to local economies. CEI’s specific expertise is in strengthening the local food supply chain to increase healthy food access across New England. CEI has invested in nearly 300 food system projects, and it maintains a current active $6.2 million loan portfolio for food system investments. These investments help farms in Maine to stay in production, despite recent stressors on farmers.
    • One last story that really exemplified President Obama’s commitment to increasing access was presented to the group by Todd Chessmoore, the Superintendent of the Cody-Kilgore School District in Cody, Nebraska. Cody is a town of just 150 people, and for over a decade, its residents, many of whom are lower income or elderly, had to drive over 30 miles to buy groceries. In order to eliminate this food desert, the Cody-Kilgore School District opened its own student-run and operated Circle C grocery store, the town’s only dedicated food retailer. 

    These stories were just a few we heard during this event, emphasizing the unique and innovative work being done across the country to enhance health and access to food for folks from all walks of life. The Obama Administration has made increasing healthy food access a priority. In partnership with the White House, the Department of the Treasury, HHS, and USDA have been working collaboratively to support innovative strategies to increase healthy food access.

    One such strategy is the Health Food Financing Initiative, or HFFI. The recently signed Farm Bill authorizes an HFFI program at USDA, and the President’s most recent budget proposal includes a $13 million request for this work. The initiative will provide financial and technical assistance to eligible fresh, healthy food retailers for the purposes of market planning and promotion efforts as well as infrastructure and operational improvements designed to stimulate demand among low-income consumers for healthy foods and to increase the availability and accessibility of locally and regionally produced foods in underserved areas.

    This program will help USDA to continue collaboration with other federal partners to ensure that communities in need have access to fresh, healthy, affordable food. It will expand healthy food access for families on SNAP – some 46.6 million individuals in 2012, the vast majority of whom are children, elderly, or living in households where members were employed in low-wage jobs.  

    A particular focus for USDA will be the expansion of healthy food options in rural areas, which often lack grocery stores and other retail outlets. HFFI will allow USDA and our partners to support creative strategies to increase access to healthy foods in rural America.

    The USDA’s Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food initiative also coordinates work on local food investments, including distribution, which is a key element of increasing healthy food access. The White House Rural Council is making healthy food access in rural communities a priority, as it impacts the future health and economics of rural America. 

    Doug McKalip is the Senior Policy Advisor for Rural Affairs at the White House Domestic Policy Council.

  • Made in Rural America: Helping Appalachian Business Sell to the World

    Forty-two percent of the Appalachian Region's population lives in rural areas. President Obama’s Made in Rural America export and investment initiative presents a strategic opportunity to expand the region’s exporting sector, grow jobs, and ensure long-term sustainable growth. It is one more example of how the White House Rural Council works to provide economic opportunity in rural America.

    Over and over, my travels throughout the region have underscored the role that expanded export markets can have in creating jobs and strengthening local economies. Yet many small businesses in Appalachia view entering the export market as a daunting challenge, something they haven’t really focused on before. The President’s proposal is specially designed to help these rural companies get in the export game by connecting them to export information and assistance. These additional resources will strengthen the capacity of Appalachian business to compete and succeed in the global economy of the 21st century.

    Rural enterprises from across Appalachia have a history of demonstrating their competitive success in capturing new export opportunities. In September 2013, an Appalachia USA delegation of 18 home furnishing and wood product enterprises generated over $50 million in new export sales at the FMC international trade show in Shanghai, China. One month earlier, a 22-member mining equipment, technology, and service delegation achieved similar export success from their Appalachia USA pavilion at the Asia-Pacific International Mining Exhibition in Sydney, Australia.

    First-time export ventures are a challenge but they offer the potential of significantly expanded markets. At the U.S. Commercial Service 2013 Trade Winds Business Forum in Seoul, South Korea, Appalachia USA delegates from a small manufacturing enterprise in Sistersville, West Virginia seized the opportunity to make their first sales into the global market. It is small manufacturers like this who will have greater opportunities under the President’s plan.

    By creating a comprehensive strategy connecting federal resources with rural leaders and businesses to expand exports, the Made in Rural America initiative will bring new and welcome energy to Appalachia’s growing export sector. The President’s initiative will help increase the number of small manufacturers who can succeed, and it will help Appalachian businesses sell to the world.

    Earl F. Gohl is the Federal Co-Chair of the Appalachian Regional Commission, a regional economic development agency that represents a partnership of federal, state, and local government established by an act of Congress in 1965.

  • StrikeForce for Rural Growth and Opportunity Initiative Expands

    Last week, I visited Pine Mountain State Park in southeastern Kentucky, along with Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear and Congressman Hal Rogers, to announce the expansion of USDA’s StrikeForce for Rural Growth and Opportunity initiative  into three new Appalachian states—Kentucky, Tennessee and West Virginia—and one state in the Delta region, Louisiana.

    I believe that USDA and its partners have the tools to expand opportunity and better serve those living in persistent poverty in rural America. Our StrikeForce for Rural Growth and Opportunity initiative, which helped to inform President Obama's recently-announced Promise Zones, is about doing just that—rallying available tools and technical assistance and targeting these resources to the areas where they are needed most.

    Through StrikeForce, we’ve partnered with more than 400 community organizations, businesses, foundations, universities and other groups to support 80,300 projects and ushered more than $9.7 billion in investments into rural America. Expanding StrikeForce support to these four additional states will help leverage USDA resources with the unique expertise of community leaders, business, foundations and other groups working in rural Kentucky, Louisiana, Tennessee and West Virginia.

    President Obama has also recognized the unique challenges of rural poverty with his new Promise Zone initiative. For example, in addition to receiving StrikeForce support, the Kentucky Highlands in southeastern Kentucky has also been targeted as a Promise Zone area. Promise Zones are part of the President’s plan to create a better bargain for the middle-class by partnering with local communities, faith-based organizations, foundations, and businesses to create jobs, increase economic security, expand educational opportunities, increase access to quality, affordable housing, and improve public safety. 

  • Introducing the National Drought Resilience Partnership

    Today, the Obama Administration is excited to announce a new partnership between seven Federal agencies that will help communities better prepare for droughts and reduce the impact of drought events on families and businesses. The interagency National Drought Resilience Partnership is part of the President’s Climate Action Plan. Federal agencies are already working with communities, businesses and farmers and ranchers to build resilience to drought on the ground, and this Partnership will enhance those efforts.

    Droughts are not new to many communities.  Climate change is increasing the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events like droughts, storms, floods, and wildfires nationwide.  About two-thirds of the continental United States was affected by drought in 2012, impacting water supplies, tourism, transportation, energy and fisheries, costing the agricultural sector alone $30 billion and causing $1 billion in losses from wildfires.  During this disaster, the Administration provided all available assistance to towns, communities and agricultural producers impacted by drought, and the 2012 drought also highlighted effective planning and preparedness is to helping communities recover and prevent the worst impacts. We heard directly from states, tribes, businesses, and local communities that there was a need for a more accessible “front door” to make it easier to access Federal assistance. That is why the National Drought Resilience Partnership is designed to provide communities with a single point of contact to help them navigate various Federal programs to find the right one for their needs.

    Spearheaded by the Department of Agriculture and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the immediate focus of the Partnership will be on creating a new, web-based portal to ease access to Federal agency drought resources, hosting more frequent regional drought outlook forums to continue to hear directly from communities, and supporting the coordination of a national soil moisture monitoring network to help improve monitoring and forecasting drought conditions. In collaboration with local, state and regional governments, the Partnership will also undertake a pilot project in a western area hard hit by drought to create a local-scale drought resilience plan that could be applied in other areas.  

    This Partnership reflects the work of the White House Rural Council, and it also follows the President’s November 2013 Executive Order on preparing our communities for the impacts of climate change.  That Executive Order created a Task Force of state, local and tribal leaders to advise the Administration on steps the Federal Government can take to help communities increase preparedness, and committed Federal agencies to examining their programs and policies to make it easier for states and communities to build resilience against storms, droughts and other weather extremes. 

    As we face increasing challenges from severe weather and climate impacts, it is more important than ever that Federal agencies work together effectively and efficiently to support the needs of local communities.  The interagency National Drought Resilience Partnership is another important step in our commitment to helping communities stay strong and resilient in the face of climate change. 

    Nancy Sutley is Chair of the Council on Environmental Quality

  • An Update on the White House Rural Council

    Ed. Note: This blog post was originally published by the Department of Agriculture

    Since the White House Rural Council was formed in 2009, our members from across the Federal government have taken a renewed look at many critical programs and services that impact rural residents, with an overarching goal to ensure that Federal agencies are collaborating to achieve the greatest possible benefit in rural America.

    Today, I hosted a meeting of the White House Rural Council where we continued our focus on shared efforts to better serve rural America – from conservation, to veterans’ services, to rural development, to support for American agriculture and more. 

    Today’s meeting included a special focus on expanding rural access to health care.  Rural Americans face unique barriers with regard to health care services, and new investments in medical facilities, expanded information technology and stronger veterans’ health care services can help meet these challenges.

    While we look forward to a number of announcements in the weeks and months to come that are intended to strengthen rural health care capacity, the Department of Health and Human Services made two key announcements today in partnership with the White House Rural Council.

    First, HHS announced that tomorrow, $4 million will be awarded through its Rural Health Information Technology Program to recruit, educate, train and retain health IT specialists in rural America. These awards will allow 15 organizations across the nation to train more healthcare workers in the specialized technology needed to better manage records and deliver remote services in rural America.  As these services are expanded, more folks in rural areas will see streamlined management of health care records. Service will be more efficient. And it will be easier for specialists to help provide remote consultations through innovative new technology.