I could not have been more excited when I got the call from Keith Gabbard, CEO of PRTC in McKee, Kentucky sharing with us that after over a year of noodling, talking, collaborating and planning, he had the VA officials from Lexington show up in his town yesterday to ink the agreement to work together on using telemedicine, PRTC’s network and the local library to create a Virtual Living Room (VLR) space to allow for the healthcare support of veterans in their rural community. Keith had participated in the NTCA White House Telemedicine Summit last year and along with Josh Seidemann on our team, there was a great deal of brainstorming on the art of the possible on bringing health care support closer to those who have served our country but live in rural areas where access to care is more of a challenge and for those who might not always be able to afford the high speed capacity needed to support these types of telemedicine services.
Keith, never one to pass up a challenge, went back to McGee, gathered his team and away they went. The sought out some possible community space that might work – where PRTC offered a gig service to already and where the chairman of the library board was also a veteran. VA national passed on the project so Keith and Josh engaged VA in Kentucky who then did a few site visits with their IT folks, PR folks, physicians and mental health specialists…I was digging back through old emails detailing the journey and some of the initial site visits dated back to the start of this year. The VA folks were impressed with the capacity that PRTC had and the willingness to pull the community to the table, including holding roundtable discussions with the local vets in the community to gauge their interest and willingness to participate if such services were offered as well as with other community leaders, including their local electric cooperative, to possibly share the promotion of the program. As Keith noted in a recent RE magazine interview “Reliable, affordable, high-speed internet service makes rural communities stronger by connecting them to distant cities, services and the rest of the world.” And that is indeed what they are doing in Kentucky!
Add into the mix a small Smart Rural Community grant to help prepare the private space and the project is ready to start rolling! Pictures of yesterday’s event were sent by Keith today and I’m not going to lie, I got a little bit weepy looking at them. A room filled with veterans waiting to hear about services that will save them a day’s worth of travel and a local leader who not just talks the talk about puts his words into action to improve the lives of his neighbors reminded me that sometimes these are the reasons we fight so hard to ensure that rural broadband providers have a path to a vibrant future – so they can continue to make a difference in the communities and people they serve. It’s the right battle to fight and I am looking forward to having others take heed about how we might replicate this type of program nationwide and appreciate PRTC’s willingness to lead the way. Definitely an “I love my job” day today!