In the News

Johnson focuses on rural health care, broadband

American Press: Doris Maricle

U.S. Rep. Mike Johnson, R-Benton, discussed the need for expansion of rural health care and broadband access for rural Louisiana on Wednesday during a town hall meeting with constituents and elected officials from Allen Parish.

Johnson, who serves the 4th Congressional District which is located in the rural areas of Allen, Beauregard and Vernon parishes, said rural health care has been a primary focus since he took office in 2017.

“The good news is I think there is a growing bipartisan recognition of the importance of rural health,” he said.  “COVID was a terrible disaster for so many reasons. If there were any bright spots out of it, it allowed for the recognition that telehealth works.”

Many initiatives were made during the pandemic that allowed rural health care providers to have more access to patients in rural areas and vice versa. As a result, more investments and attention are now being made for telehealth, he said.

Measures have been taken to allow nurse practitioners to provide a broader scope of services because specialists and physicians cannot reach every person, he said. Additionally, more focus has been made on development and funding for rural health care and hospitals.

“There are a lot of good ideas on the table,” Johnson said.

Allen Parish Community Healthcare Hospital CEO Jacqueline Reviel said there are many health care disparities in rural areas because of the challenges patients face in receiving proper health care. Patients in many rural areas have to drive 30-40 miles to see a doctor, receive treatment or have a procedure done, she said.

“A lot of people can’t even afford to drive that, especially with the price of gas, it is even worse,” Reviel said.

Reviel said it is also very hard to bill for telehealth and bring specialists to rural areas such as Allen Parish.

Johnson said telehealth has been proven to work, but the challenge for many rural areas is broadband access.

A rural broadband fund with billions of dollars has been allocated to expand broadband and the FCC Is redrawing the maps to identify where the biggest needs are, he said.

“We are very optimistic that we are going to get everybody online in a very short period of time,” Johnson said.

He said incentives are being offered to providers to bring the service to rural areas.

“Everything is online – education, healthcare….It has to be done and we are behind the eight ball on that,” he said.

Louisiana, West Virginia, Virginia and New Hampshire were among the first states to have broadband plans approved under the $1.2 trillion American Rescue Plan Act’s Coronavirus Capital Projects Fund. The projects will help connect Americans and small businesses to affordable, high-speed internet service.