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Rural Health Day

Floor Speech

Date: Nov. 19, 2020
Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. THOMPSON of Pennsylvania. Mr. Speaker, I rise today to recognize November 19, today, as Rural Health Day. Each year, the third Thursday in November is an opportunity to highlight both the challenges and the triumphs of rural healthcare.

Nearly 60 million Americans call rural America home. It is a great place to live, to work, and to raise a family. To ensure the vitality and the vibrancy of rural America, investments in infrastructure, technology, and, of course, healthcare are critical.

Americans in every corner of the Nation deserve access to reliable, quality healthcare, but rural America faces its own unique health challenges that need to be addressed. Long distances to the nearest hospital, many uninsured and underinsured residents, and a growing elderly population, these are just a few obstacles that rural residents face when it comes to healthcare.

This year, COVID-19 has placed an incredible strain on our healthcare systems, and rural hospitals have been particularly hit hard.

Telehealth has emerged as a critical tool to better serve rural communities. The pandemic has underscored the value telehealth adds to communities across the Nation, particularly in rural America.

This summer, I was pleased to introduce the bipartisan Helping to Ensure Access to Local TeleHealth Act, or the HEALTH Act. The HEALTH Act seeks to extend benefits and access to this critical healthcare medium to more seniors regardless of their geographic location.

As a lifetime resident of rural Pennsylvania and having spent nearly three decades as a therapist and a licensed nursing home administrator, I have been amazed how telehealth services make life easier for rural and underserved communities, particularly older Americans. The HEALTH Act will cut red tape and provide community health centers and rural health clinics the ability to offer these vital health services to their patients on a more permanent basis.

Telehealth services, however, are not possible without reliable access to high-speed, uninterrupted broadband connectivity with sufficient bandwidth to be able to handle these platforms.

Now, I have long been an advocate of rural broadband. Investing in the critical infrastructure needed to deliver this critical resource for all Americans must be a top priority.

From telehealth to telework, content streaming to online shopping, tele-education, now, more than ever, we depend on a reliable broadband and high-speed internet connectivity for our everyday lives. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the digital divide affecting rural America has never been more apparent.

In time, the coronavirus will be a thing of the past, but a national need for reliable broadband connectivity is not going anywhere. By continuing to encourage investments in broadband, we can strengthen the rural healthcare system and keep the people who call it home healthy.

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