Photo credit: Department of Agriculture
Department of Agriculture Rural Development Deputy Under Secretary Vernita Dore announces a $91.4 million loan for Avita Health Systems to build a new full-service hospital.

The Department of Agriculture recently announced more than $1.2 billion in grants and loans to improve rural health and public safety.

The funding, which is part of the of the Rural Development's Community Facilities program, brings the USDA's investments in rural communities since 2009 to $9.7 billion. Of that, $4.9 billion has been earmarked for more than 1,000 health care projects.

"Rural America deserves quality, affordable health care but, too often, local communities lack the capital to invest in improving the facilities that deliver that care," stated Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. "I am especially proud of the role that the USDA plays in addressing the critical needs for health care facilities, including mental health facilities."

The latest round of funding has more than quadrupled a goal the USDA set out in 2013 to invest up to $50 million over three years to improve mental health facilities and services in rural areas. To date, the USDA has awarded more than $213 million for 80 mental health projects in 34 states.

One of those projects is in Alaska's North Slope Borough, which received $420,000 to develop a telemedicine program and expand remote access to behavioral health services. Western Montana Mental Health Center was granted $288,061 to provide a range of mental health services, including routine behavioral health medication management.

One of the largest loans not directly linked to mental health went to the Galion, Ohio-based Avita Health System's Ontario location. Avita received $91 million to convert a vacant 197,500-square-foot department store into a multispecialty health care facility. Officials at the health system say that once it's completed, the new facility will create 352 jobs and provide health care to nearly 125,000 residents in portions of three North Central Ohio counties.

"This historic $91.4 million award from the Department of Agriculture is a major boost for Ontario and our state," stated Sen. Sherrod Brown in a press release. "It will give Avita the ability to expand services. This will benefit both the health system and those in need of quality care."

Other recent grants and loans awarded under the Community Facilities program include:

  • $165 million to Alaska's Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corp., to build a primary care clinic and remodel a 110,000-square-foot hospital in Bethel, Alaska.
  • $7.5 million loan for Nanticoke Memorial Hospital in Seaford, Del., to connect two buildings to a larger complex.
  • $14.5 million loan to the Toiyabe Indian Health Project Inc., to develop a new health care facility at the Bishop Paiute Reservation in California.
  • $50,000 grant to McGehee (Ark.)-Desha County Hospital for critical access hospital equipment.
  • $30,000 grant to St. Mary's Health Wagon in Virginia to purchase an SUV and trailer to deliver health care in mountainous terrain.