NEW LEXINGTON — When it comes to internet access, basic broadband is a much needed resource especially for medical services. The Perry County Think Tank on Poverty held another virtual town hall; this time discussing the approximate 88.2 percent of rural counties in the nation that are considered medically underserved.

In the medical industry, broadband is just some of the much needed resources that professionals utilize in daily services. According to the Think Tank without adequate broadband, medical equipment such as heart rate monitors, MRIs, X-rays and Emergency Medical Services (EMS) cannot function properly. Further, the group also states that tele-health and other virtual visits with medical physicians are “next to impossible without broadband access.”

The town hall was recorded and posted on the Perry County Think Tank on Poverty’s Facebook page for locals and others to view at their leisure. The town hall featured some familiar faces with some new voices coming in to speak on how medical services and operations are run with the scarcity of broadband in the region.

Returning to the Think Tank town hall was Peter Voderberg who serves as the office chief for BroadbandOhio. Voderberg was the first to speak about the issues that plague Appalachian Ohio and specifically, Perry County. He stated that two issues are apparent, one is availability and the other is access.

“Large parts of Appalachia including some urban and suburban areas, and definitely including Perry County, have no internet providers at all,” Voderberg said.

The office chief shared a map which showed how roughly 59 percent of Perry County households have availability, meaning the rest of the population does not have the capability of getting high speed access. Basic access, according to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is defined as 25 megabits download and three megabits upload speed.

“You know from your own community that this is a problem,” Voderberg commented.

BroadbandOhio is currently working with the Ohio legislature on House Bill 13 to establish a grant program in an effort to expand coverage. The office is also requesting information from the Department of Administrative Services in order to create a transparent price list for entities wishing to buy hot spots and other types of services.

Further, the office announced that it is looking at a $50 million one-to-one matching grant with the Ohio Department of Education for school districts looking to purchase the technology necessary for students.

The town hall transitioned to the medical physicians who were present to speak on the topic as it pertains to their professions. Dr. Stephen Ulrich is a family physician based in the Village of New Lexington, who has been in the community for the past 39 years.

“My concern with computer systems and tele-health is that, number one, is computer literacy,” Dr. Ulrich said.

The physician added that he is primarily concerned with his elderly patients who have a hard time finding medical care and services that best fits them. Access is also an issue with the rural elderly population.

Dr. Jack Butterfield then introduced himself at the town hall. He worked as a family physician in the Village of Roseville for 37 years and is now the Medical Director for the Zanesville-Muskingum County Health Department.

Working and living in the Village, Dr. Butterfield said that he can identify with some of the Perry County population as well as not having basic broadband in his home office, of which he was tuning in live from.

“I’ve had to purchase four Verizon [internet service devices] to get internet connection,” Butterfield explained. “With the amount of work I do online, I have to have four of those things.”

Emergency Medicine Physician Carla Ralston of Genesis spoke on behalf of one of the doctors that were invited to speak. She works 50 to 75 percent of her time at the Perry County Genesis Medical Center in Somerset while also splitting her time at the main campus in Zanesville.

“Where I have grown up, I have always had internet pretty much since I was 13,” Ralston said.

While having internet access for most of her life, she recognizes difficulties in the region with some people not being able to get services through online means especially with tele-health.

Perry County Juvenile Judge Luanne Cooperrider also tuned in for the town hall and said when it comes to mental health services as well as school work, locals experience difficulties getting access. Some individuals cannot get in touch with a counselor or fall behind in work because of the lack of access.

“I even have staff members that have children that are in middle school and high school that in where they live, they cannot obtain internet,” Cooperrider said.

On the topic of tele-health, Dr. Ulrich said that sometimes a phone call is the best option to get care to someone due to their lack of access or computer literacy.

The rest of the town hall covered ideas and proposals from those invited to the virtual meeting. The recording of the town hall can be viewed on the Perry County Think Tank on Poverty’s Facebook page.

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