KINGWOOD — Broadband and telemedicine access were the center of conversation during a visit to Preston Memorial Hospital by U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., and Federal Communications Commissioner Mignon Clyburn on Monday.
“The message is simple,” Capito said. “Availability of high-speed internet is critical to expanding telemedicine opportunities.
“Until we address the state’s lack of connectivity, West Virginians won’t be able to leverage all the advancements that are possible through telehealth,” Capito said.
Commissioner Clyburn said government should look at where resources are going and how money is being spent.
“We are spending a lot of money in state and federal Medicare,” Commissioner Clyburn said. “If we had a viable telemedicine program, those monies would go a lot further because we could, more efficiently, be providing healthcare and better opportunities for wellness.”
“What we are not doing is looking at what we are spending now and ways to avoid the cost in the future if we had a more connected America,” Clyburn said.
Preston Memorial Hospital President & CEO Melissa Lockwood said she was very excited to have Capito and Clyburn at the hospital to discuss telemedicine and the need for broadband service in rural communities.
“With some of our programs, we have to monitor patients on a real-time basis,” Lockwood said. “And some of our patients not having connectivity is an issue.”
Preston Memorial Family Care’s Dr. Cheryl Stockett attended the meeting to discuss the frustration of not having reliable internet access in the Fellowsville office.
“It was encouraging to hear that both Senator Capito and Commissioner Clyburn are invested in providing broadband access to our community,” Stockett said.
Clyburn was encouraged by what she saw at PMH during her tour and also what she heard during the roundtable meeting with hospital representatives.
“There are a lot of great things going on with medical care at this facility,” Clyburn said. “The challenge is how do we ensure that a person a few miles outside of here get the care they need and deserve.”
Clyburn said what she heard from people was the need for everyone to work together.
“Agencies like mine must be on the same page when it comes to providing rules and regulations going forward,” Clyburn said. “We need to work together. Singularly change will not happen, but with on-going partnership we will take a difference.”
Capito did acknowledge some of the frustration that comes with the deployment of broadband in rural areas.
“It is more expensive,” Capito said. “There are not as many people to pick up the bill, but we were able to figure out how to get electric to people with the rural utility service. We could look into something such as that to get broadband to people in rural West Virginia.”
Clyburn said that while West Virginia is not the only area with connectivity problems, it shows the necessity of having broadband internet accessible for everyone.
“A lot of your challenges and problems are nationwide,” Clyburn said. “My visit here underscores the necessity of closing the digital divide so everyone can truly benefit from broadband access.”
Capito and Clyburn visited Preston Memorial Hospital as part of Capito’s Connecting Communities Tour.