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Grant brings new tech to county
Program helps telemedicine, video meetings
hollingshead telemed grant
Barton County Information Technology Director Dereck Hollingshead gives an update on the United States Department of Agriculture’s Distance Learning and Telemedicine Grant Program to the County Commission Wednesday morning. - photo by DALE HOGG Great Bend Tribune

Barton County Commission meeting at a glance

Here is a quick look at what the Barton County Commission did Wednesday morning:

• Moved a report on House Bill 2380, the motor vehicle fee bill, to a future meeting study session at the request of County Treasurer Jim Jordan.

• Heard a report from County Health Director Karen Winkelman on the second-annual community baby shower June 23.

• Heard an update on the United States Department of Agriculture’s Distance Learning and Telemedicine Grant Program from Information Technology Director Dereck Hollingshead.

The United States Department of Agriculture’s Distance Learning and Telemedicine Grant has allowed Barton County to upgrade antiquated connectivity technology and bring more business to the area, said Information Technology Director Dereck Hollingshead, giving an update on the program to the County Commission Wednesday morning.

“This has been one of my favorite projects to work on,” he said. “It allowed Barton County to get equipment we probably never would have purchased at full cost, it allowed us to do some serious upgrades to outdated equipment.”

While it has been a slow process it has still been very beneficial, he said.

“Department heads are continually asked to think about how we can cut our budget and reduce costs. This grant has allowed the Barton County IT Department to this in a very effective way and I hope we can continue to do so.”

The county’s grant coordinator completed the 2020 grant application on behalf of the Barton County Sheriff’s Office, Barton County Health Department, and Community Corrections and Juvenile Services. The grant also included the Stafford, Rice and Ellsworth county health departments, and Ellsworth County Jail. 

The grant helped connect existing county services to critical health-care providers. It also created regional access to essential health-care services and improve patient outcomes. 

Clients of the Barton, Ellsworth, Rice, and Stafford County health departments can access public health services remotely. 

Central Kansas Community Corrections and the 20th Judicial District Juvenile Services can provide vital counseling, treatment, and educational programs that address substance use disorder.

“It’ll be nice because we’re actually going to start using the telemedicine side of it here pretty quickly in the jail,” he said. “We’ve got a doctor up in Hoisington that won’t have to travel down to the jail every single time.” 

That doctor can also potentially serve the Ellsworth county jail as well. 

How we got here

In late 2019 and early 2020 Barton County started the process of applying for the USDA-DLT Grant, Hollingshead said. This grant program has been around for at least 17 years. 

“Barton County has the ability to apply for this grant every year,” he said. It cover 85% of the cost with the applicant covering 15%. 

In late 2020, the county learned it had been awarded almost $900,000, with the county’s match being $80,000. “However, our previous grant coordinator secured separate funding from a couple foundations to help with that cost. Barton County’s cost will be about $25,000.” 

It was in early 2021 when the county started placing equipment orders, Hollingshead said. But, “throughout 2021 and early 2022, we suffered significant product delays and damaged deliveries (to the medical carts ordered).”

Still, “the equipment we received in 2021 was put into production quickly and utilized and embraced by staff immediately,” he said. “With social distancing at its peak, the video conference systems allowed remote meetings to be facilitated efficiently and professionally.”

It also included various networking equipment, battery backups, network racks, etc., replacing equipment that was outdated and in of need serious upgrading. “This grant saved the county a lot of money and allowed Barton County IT to proactively replace critical equipment before equipment failure,” he said. 

Trying again

In 2021, the county reapplied for the grant, Hollingshead said, noting they asked for equipment to augment what was received the first time. “However, we were denied our 2021 grant application as our 2020 grant was not complete,” he said. In other words, they were still waiting to expend grant funds on the undelivered medical carts.

“We are finally to 2022. In the first quarter of 2022, we still didn’t have our medical carts,” he said. So, they canceled the orders and have found additional grant-eligible products to replace them. 

After the departure of the grant coordinator, Barton County contracted an attorney who specializes in the USDA-DLT grants to help finalize the 2020 USDA-DLT grant, he said.

“We hope to submit our final change order later this week or next week at the latest,” he said. “Change orders can take anywhere from three weeks to four months to get approved.”

How long this takes will determine if the county can reapply for the 2022 grant. 

“If Barton County doesn’t apply for the 2022 grant, Barton County should apply for the 2023 grant,” Hollingshead said. By that time, they will be able to “refresh or upgrade” what they initially purchased as it will be three years old. 

The equipment purchased with the first grant could then be shifted to departments. 

Applying again should be easier since much of the foundation is already in place, he said. They just have to change some wording.

“This is one of those grants that we were all hoping for when we hired a grants writer,” said District 5 Commissioner Jennifer Schartz said. “When we get $900,000 into our area and we only have to pay $20,000 that’s pretty good return for everybody.”

Even though the grant covers multiple counties, Schartz said much of the business it creates comes into Barton County.