U.S. Department of Agriculture Administrator for Rural Housing Services and Community Facilities Tony Hernandez announced $4.3 million to expand health care services and create local jobs in eastern Kentucky. The funds will increase hospital capacity, expand health care services, and create continued economic opportunity in the region.
"The ability to access good quality health care directly impacts people's everyday lives and influences the choices people make about where to live and where to start a business," said Hernandez. "Long-term investments that expand access to health care, education and good jobs build strong rural communities with a good quality of life for families."
Today's announcement includes a $4.2 million USDA Community Facilities Loan to the South Williamson Appalachian Regional Hospital in Pike County to expand and renovate the facility. The project will expand bed capacity in the intensive care unit (ICU), improve the heating and ventilation system and upgrade facilities in the ICU and emergency room areas. This upgrade will expand the hospital's ability to serve the region in a state which is number one in the nation for cancer mortality rates and over 31 percent of adults are obese.
The announcement was made at the Hazard Community Technical College where USDA, the Appalachian Regional Commission and other federal agencies discussed partnership opportunities to benefit the regional community. Strengthening the health care sector is considered a top priority for the economic growth in the area.
Yesterday, USDA Rural Development State Director Tom Fern announced an $115,000 USDA investment in partnership with the Kentucky Highlands Investment Corporation (KHIC) to expand a revolving loan fund to support local business development in southeast Kentucky. One local business in Bell County, Stallworth Internal Medicine and Pediatrics of Middlesboro, Ky., will be able to expand pediatric and primary care as a result of the funds being announced. Currently, there are a limited number of pediatricians and primary care doctors serving the Middlesboro area. These funds are being made through USDA's Rural Business Enterprise Grant program.
Today's announcement is part of USDA's StrikeForce for Rural Growth and Opportunity Initiative which addresses the unique set of challenges faced by many of America's rural communities. In eastern Kentucky, 68 percent of households live below the poverty line. Through StrikeForce, USDA is leveraging resources and collaborating with over 400 community organizations, businesses, foundations, universities and other groups to support 80,300 projects with more than $9.7 billion in USDA investments into rural America. StrikeForce currently serves 20 states including Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia and West Virginia.
These announcements are also part of the Obama Administration's Promise Zone Initiative in Southeastern Kentucky. Through the Promise Zones Initiative, which was outlined in the President's 2013 State of the Union address, the federal government will partner with and invest in designated communities to create jobs, leverage private investment, increase economic activity, expand educational opportunities, and improve public safety. The Kentucky Highlands is one of the first five Promise Zones designated by President Obama in January 2014. An additional 15 Promise Zones will be designated over the next three years. Earlier this week, the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) announced a $1 million investment to engage 52 full-time AmeriCorps VISTA members in eastern Kentucky.