Jones added to state broadband group

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CARBON HILL - Local legislators pointed out this week that F. David Jones, executive director of Capstone Rural Health Center, has been added within the past couple of weeks to a state committee looking at broadband that could help with rural teleconferencing for medical needs.

Senate Majority Leader Greg Reed, R-Jasper, and state Rep. Tim Wadsworth, R-Arley, discussed Jones' participation Tuesday while presenting a grant check in Carbon Hill. Jones confirmed his appointment Thursday. 

"In the CARES Act, there is a certain amount the Legislature appropriated out of $1.9 billion that goes to decide broadband and infrastructure (for rural broadband) in that area. David was appointed to that board and they had a meeting today," Wadsworth said.

That meeting was held by teleconference Tuesday, featuring nearly 60 people, including legislators, commissioners, service providers and others from across the state.

"It would help other clinics. A lot of us are trying to use the telemedicine model to get care into people's homes," Jones said, noting those services have helped at Capstone. 

Reed said the focus of the committee's work is broadband and rural infrastructure, noting the panel is headed up by Kenneth Boswell, the director for the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs. 

The commission is to "determine what are the best use of those resources, which are hundreds of millions of dollars, to help with rural broadband access in the State of Alabama," Reed said.

"David, on the healthcare side, with telemedicine in rural areas, was someone we had suggested, that Rep. Wadsworth had suggested, and he was added by the governor to that board," he said.

Wadsworth noted the board originally had a doctor from Birmingham connected to a hospital. He said someone was needed to represent the rural aspect of healthcare needs and rural medical clinics.

"David could provide that perspective," he said.

Reed said, "Healthcare in urban areas is very important, but we're interested in healthcare in rural areas. We wanted to make sure there was appropriate representation on that board as we look at those resources." 

Jones is "a great asset" as Capstone has clinic facilities in Winston and Walker counties, including Jasper, Nauvoo, Parrish, Double Springs and Arley. 

Wadsworth noted a universal service fee allows federal monies to pay, in part, for health care to pay for two-thirds of the cost of broadband telemedicine needs. Hopefully, new broadband CARES Act legislation will allow for the remaining third to be paid for. 

Non-profit health clinics like Capstone can qualify for the federal funds for internet services, Reed said. 

Jones noted at Tuesday's meeting, much of the emphasis was given to getting broadband for students to use in the home, as the start of the school year is approaching. Officials were saying that 450,000 children are needing to get access to broadband for educational needs. 

"There are a lot of spots, if you look at the state maps, that just don't have any internet availability," he said. "They are trying to swing that really quick, covering that cost.  It was totally about education when I got on the phone." 

A physician for UAB did ask for help with medical needs, however, at one point, he said. 

However, Jones said serving the children for educational needs would also provide the access for those homes to connect for medical needs as well.  "I think that would help a lot," he said, allowing for visual connection between doctor and patient.  He said face-to-face communication does help, as opposed to calling on the phone.

He understood that the CARES Act money involved needs to be used by the end of the year. 

Capstone school giveaways set this weekend for Parrish, Arley

In a related note, Capstone Rural Health Center's Back 2 School Supply and Backpack Giveaway will be held Friday from 9 to 11 a.m. at the old Parrish High School as a drive-through event. Each child will receive a backpack and supplies, and children must be present to receive the items. 

Children in Pre-K through 12th grade will be eligible for the giveaway. Each child will also receive a reusable, monogrammed Capstone face mask - which is timely as the state is now mandating students from  second grade through college wear a mask when classes start in August. 

Jones said 1,000 backpacks have been purchased for Walker and Winston counties combined, thanks to sponsors. A similar event is being sponsored in Capstone in Hamner Memorial Park in Arley Saturday, from 10 a.m. to noon.