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Bustos, Vilsack tour Hammond-Henry Hospital, announce rural broadband expansion

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Rep. Cheri Bustos announced $1.15 billion in rural broadband expansion nationwide.

GENESEO, Ill. — A major announcement brought federal leaders to the Quad Cities area as federal lawmakers continue talks over a massive infrastructure bill.

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Rep. Cheri Bustos announced $1.15 billion in rural broadband expansion nationwide.

"With proper broadband access, that becomes a very convenient opportunity," Vilsack said.

Bustos and Vilsack toured Hammond-Henry Hospital to get an up-close look at how the money will directly impact hospitals in rural areas.

"This announcement, the fact that we're going to be able to work with more people through telehealth, is very, very important to a region like ours," Bustos said.

The move is expected to make a difference, especially where there's little health care access.

"We have less connectivity in people's homes," Hammond-Henry Hospital CEO Mark Kuhn said.

The funding not only means stronger medical care in homes, but it's also a lifeline for those who depend on rural living.

"Who knows what impact and affect that can have on the bottom line for the operation," Vilsack said.   

Hospital staff said this kind of access has an effect on nurses and doctors while they try to reach patients through virtual appointments.

"All of us understand and appreciate that 21st century technology of access to broadband impacts and affects our lives," Vilsack said. "This is not check-the-box broadband. This is broadband with upload and download speeds to allow you to actually do business."

Federal leaders hope to maintain it for the future.

"This particular resource is really focused on getting us to the next generation of usable broadband," Vilsack said.

The federal government is also providing around $50 million to improve telehealth services through hospitals nationwide.