Connecting the unserved is crucial

5 months ago

To the editor:

Telehealth has emerged as a crucial resource for millions of Americans since the onset of the pandemic. As a rural physician I use the internet daily to provide services. I have seen firsthand the positive ways in which telehealth services can complement in-person visits and benefit health outcomes. I have also experienced the difficulties in always having reliable internet access. 

But for those who lack connectivity, accessing telehealth services is obviously impossible, creating a concerning dynamic in which patients lack access to health care services that could prove critical. Here in Aroostook County this issue is of particular concern, as last year Northern Light Health, a major anchor institution with The County, reported that about one in five of its patient population lacked a stable connection at home. 

Universal connectivity is essential to ensuring that all Mainers have access to the health care they need, but to achieve this in the quickest manner possible, we must be diligent about allocating our state’s initial broadband infrastructure grants to the truly unserved areas that lack access. Some are calling for state funding to go to areas that already have access to multiple networks, with the rationale being that these projects will simply improve connectivity. However, funding duplicative projects before those in unserved areas will once again leave unconnected Mainers waiting for the access to broadband infrastructure that they have been neglected for far too long. 

State leadership and the Maine Connectivity Authority have done an admirable job of prioritizing the greatest need when it comes to broadband funding — the truly unserved. If we’re going to achieve universal connectivity as quickly as possible, a sustained focus on Maine’s truly unserved is needed. 

While ensuring telehealth access is critical, we must also do so in a way that does not interfere with efforts to train and recruit providers to rural areas. Balancing these efforts will ensure that patients in places like Aroostook County get the care that they need. 

Ted Sussman