Empowering healthier communities in rural Tennessee

Published 1:13 pm Tuesday, November 21, 2023

BY ARLISA ARMSTRONG
Tennessee State Direction
USDA Rural Development
People, no matter where they live, should have access to high-quality health care services and healthy food options to put on the table.
In Tennessee, we work hard to empower rural people and organizations with the information they need to take full advantage of the USDA Rural Development programs that are specifically designed to support healthy rural communities. In doing so, we help create and sustain economic prosperity in rural America.
As we celebrate National Rural Health Day (Nov. 16) this year, we are reminded that a strong community is rooted in its people. The theme, the “Power of Rural,” reminds us that rural communities are fueling an innovative rural health infrastructure.
The Biden-Harris administration is committed to serving rural America, like the small towns and communities right here in Tennessee.
As I’ve traveled across Tennessee, I’ve seen firsthand the unique challenges people in rural communities and remote parts of the state have in accessing the health care resources they need and deserve. These challenges are especially true for people living in our nation’s Tribal communities who have been underserved for far too long.
That’s why working with our partners like the National Rural Health Association (NRHA) is important for ensuring people in rural areas have access to the care they need. For instance, USDA is partnering with NRHA to provide technical assistance to rural hospitals across the nation.
At USDA Rural Development, we are committed to making sure that everyone in rural America has access to high-quality and reliable health care services like urgent care, primary care, dental care and more. That’s why I was proud to champion the Emergency Rural Health Care Grants created by President Biden’s historic legislative package, the American Rescue Plan Act.
Through these grants, we 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. For example, in April 2022 we partnered with The Free Medical Clinic of Oak Ridge to help expand operations at their Harriman and Briceville, Tennessee clinics. They also started a Community Health Initiative in that they purchased a mobile health vehicle to travel to their most rural service areas and treat patients without insurance, free of charge.
We’ve also supported communities through programs and activities like the Business and Industry Loan.
For example, in October 2020, we partnered with the Lauderdale Community Hospital LLC to purchase hospital assets. The purchase prevented the closing of the only rural hospital in west Tennessee. In March 2022, construction of a critical access hospital to replace the outdated facility in Ripley, Tennessee began. This project saved 93 jobs and provided access to modern healthcare for rural residents. Lauderdale Community Hospital opened in September 2023 with a ribbon cutting ceremony.
We also recognize that people in our state’s most rural and remote locations lack access to healthy foods. Recent supply chain disruptions have made access even more challenging and have shown just how critical it is to invest in the agricultural supply chain here at home.
That’s why we remain committed to creating local and regional food systems that benefit all Americans, from farmers and ranchers to small businesses and families, who currently need to travel far from home to find fresh, nutritious food.
Through programs like the Meat and Poultry Processing Expansion Program, the Meat and Poultry Intermediary Relending Program, and the Food Supply Chain Guaranteed Loan Program, USDA works to create stronger food supply chains that benefits American producers, meat and poultry processors, and consumers.
For example, in May 2023 we partnered with Appalachian Producers Cooperative to provide additional funding to construct and equip a new 15,000 square foot meat processing facility in Telford, Tenn., an area with a large demand for meat processing. This new facility will reduce processing wait times, provide greater regional access, and enhance the profitability and sustainability of family farms throughout the region.
Throughout November, USDA Rural Development is celebrating National Rural Health Day by sharing success stories and the resources we have available to champion communities working tirelessly to support rural health across the country.
USDA Rural Development is a partner who invests in keeping rural people healthy. You can learn more about our programs by visiting our website or by calling (615) 783-1300.

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