Lifeline Offline: Unreliable Internet, Cell Service are Hurting Rural Pennsylvanian’s Health

PITTSBURGH, June 26, 2018 – Last year, J.C. Blair Memorial Hospital confronted a painful reality: Without radical change, the 107-year-old rural Huntingdon County hospital wasn’t going to survive.

The hospital turned to Robert Gillio, 64, a Mayo Clinic-trained lung specialist, to attack the problem.

Dr. Gillio, J.C. Blair’s new medical director for population health and clinical innovation, proposed a more efficient, less costly way of treating patients through a videoconference hookup called telemedicine — connecting doctors with patients online. He enlisted students at nearby Juniata College in developing educational videos about opioid addiction and childbirth that patients could retrieve from the hospital’s website.

Then Dr. Gillio ran into a problem. The telemedicine hookup he envisioned relies on broadband access — the cable, satellites and fiber that makes getting onto the internet possible.

But he could barely get internet access at his home near the county seat of Huntingdon, where he and his wife, Beth, 61, who teaches online college courses, had moved.

Their house was just four miles from his office. He said Comcast, a local broadband provider, quoted a price of $100,000 to get their street online.

It is a familiar problem to many people living in rural areas. Read more