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Rural Development leader discusses plan for hospitals

Mississippi’s highest-ranking Rural Development official visitedKing’s Daughter’s Medical Center Wednesday as part of a new effortto possibly provide funding to improve hospital services.

“I want to do more in rural health care and K-12 education,”said Nick Walters, state director of the United States Departmentof Agriculture (USDA) Rural Development. “These are not typicalareas where we spend our money.”

Walters was recently reappointed by President George W. Bush tohis second term as head of the state agency. When most people thinkof the USDA, they think of agriculture and housing, he said.

“We’ve provided grants to help redo the local chamber building.We help a lot with non-profits,” said Walters, explaining that theUSDA Rural Development does a lot of work with ruralbusinesses.

Walters said the USDA typically considers rural as less than50,000 people. He indicated the agency is looking to provideassistance with health care and education in rural areas.

“Hospitals and school districts are usually the largestemployers in a county,” he said. “A lot of communities don’trealize they can find resources through our agency for theseareas.”

At present, USDA Rural Development is building from the groundup a new $6.5 million hospital in Newton and has provided $1.6million to assist with improvements for a hospital in JeffersonDavis County.

“We’re also building new health clinics,” Walters said.

At the end of the summer, Walters said the agency will holdone-day summits to talk about resources for administrators andhospital boards.

Phillip Grady, King’s Daughters Medical Center chief executiveofficer, took Walters and several chamber of commerce officials ona tour of the medical facility. Grady pointed out old and therecently-remodeled areas of the hospital.

“You walk through time warps when you walk through thehospital,” said Grady.

Grady and hospital officials have been looking into putting anew emergency room, explaining the need for a more efficient ER, aswell as a new helicopter landing. He also has plans for buildingand remodeling patient’s rooms and a third floor intensive careunit.

“We have an $8 million project and we’re trying to figure outhow to fund it,” Grady said.

Citing the need for upgrades, Grady alluded to the importance ofquality health care facilities when pursuing economicdevelopment.

“When new industries look at a community, they ask what are theschools like and what’s the health care system like,” Gradysaid.

Grady also pointed out a need for telemedicine. Telemedicine isthe use of medical information exchanged from one site to anotherusing electronic communications for the health and education ofpatients or providers and to improve patient care.

Walters suggested telemedicine was one area where RuralDevelopment could be of assistance to KDMC. He said telemedicineresources are available now and can be used for to purchaseequipment and to rehabilitate some examination rooms.

Walters added that resources are also available at a 0 percentinterest rate with a cap of $450,000. He indicated thattelemedicine is a growing area of interest for hospitals.

“Last year was the first year we were not able to fund all ofour telemedicine requests,” Walters said.