A federal Distance Learning and Telemedicine Grant that will benefit the Greater Olean area was the focus of a press conference at the Southern Tier Health Care System Monday.

“Increasing access to telemedicine and distance learning is critical to building healthier and more resilient rural communities,” Richard Mayfield, New York State director for the United States Department of Agriculture Rural Development, said during a press conference at the Southern Tier Health Care System in Olean.

On Oct. 8, U.S. Rep. Tom Reed, whose district includes the Greater Olean area, announced that the Southern Tier Health Care System would receive $218,557, and Cattaraugus-Allegany-Erie-Wyoming BOCES would receive $486,510.

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Reed joined Mayfield and Southern Tier Health Care System President and CEO Donna Kahm at Monday’s press conference.

The grant will provide distance learning equipment four sites: the Council on Addiction Recovery Services in Olean, ACASA in Wellsville, Alstar Training Center in Jamestown and the Town of Oxford Fire Department in Chenango County. This is the fourth round of the Southern Tier Health Care System's funding under this grant, and it is an expansion of previous years.

Tim Cox, Cattaraugus-Allegany-Erie-Wyoming BOCES assistant superintendent for instructional support services, had been quoted in an Oct. 8 press release from Reed’s office that the funds will help “increase distance learning capacity within the region and break down geographic barriers that can limit the educational opportunities available for our students.”

The USDA Rural Development program provides loans and grants to help expand economic opportunities and create jobs in rural areas. The program provides assistance with infrastructure improvements, business development, housing, community facilities such as schools, public safety and health care and high-speed internet access in rural areas.

“When rural America prospers, all of America prospers,” Mayfield said.

Reed said COVID-19 underscored the need for rural development and bolstered congressional support.

“What we’re doing with these resources that COVID-19 has unleashed for us is making investments to improve lives," he said. "COVID-19 has some silver linings to it.”

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