Today is one of the kind of days that remind me why I love my job! I took the early morning flight from Washington DC to Burlington, Vermont (it’s not the travel I love…4 delays/gates later for a 75 minute flight) to join our innovative leaders at Waitsfield and Champlain Valley Telcom, friends at CoBank, co-workers from the Foundation for Rural Service, numerous reps from VA Health in Vermont, the American Legion Post 19 Commander, representatives from the Vermont congressional delegation and numerous community members to celebrate the opening of the next Virtual Living Room in the American Legion Post 19 in Bristol, Vermont.
Sometimes, often times in rural America, the nearest VA medical center is too far away for a person to easily get to, and their home internet connection isn’t fast enough or strong enough to make telemedicine options possible. The Virtual Living Room is a program that had its roots in the White House conference on rural health that NTCA played a leadership role in getting off the ground about 5 years ago as a few NTCA members noodled around what we could all do to bridge the gap for those who have served our country and live in rural America. My undying thanks to Keith Gabbard at PRTC in KY for making the first project a reality after some napkin scribbles, phone call brainstorming and Keith just finally showing VA folks that gig service resides in rural America!
This program has gotten its sea legs and is now made possible by the national support of FRS and CoBank to create private spaces in public places specifically for Veterans who need to communicate with the nearest Department of Veterans Affairs medical center for their remote health care…and sometimes simply for their VA paperwork. But this program only works if we have NTCA members, like those at Waitsfield and Champlain Valley Telcom taking a lead role in bringing the broadband to these rural locations. In the middle of Vermont, American Legion Post 19 has a gig service….a lot of urban health centers can’t claim that!
Traveling through snowy Vermont seemed right out of a picture book. Red barns, white church steeples and winding roads with cows along the side. Clearly, my dear friends were concerned about how long it has been since I have driven through snowy, windy, slushy roads behind logging trucks and my thanks to Kurt and Suzanne Gruendling for taking care of me door to door to join the celebration. Having just been in North Dakota a few weeks ago – always interesting to see the different flavors of rural and challenging to serve areas. Just glad we didn’t try to do any mountain passes today!
We made our way to Bristol, Vermont to the American Legion Hall where we had a crew of folks from all of the organizations noted above who had gathered for this demonstration and ribbon cutting for telemedicine care in this remote part of the state for the Veterans who reside here.
Hearing from folks from VA Vermont, from the congressional delegation showing great support, from Veterans who are full time employees of the Waitsfield staff, and member of the American Legion as well made the event that much more powerful in terms of the impact that these types of programs can have on lives in this country.
I so appreciate Sarah Tyree from CoBank who share that more funding was available for those telcos/communities willing to jump in – let the momentum continue!