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story.lead_photo.caption Rick Wade (left), deputy chief of staff at the U.S. Department of Commerce, shakes hands with Dr. Curtis Lowery (middle), chairman of Obstetrics and Gynecology in the UAMS College of Medicine, and Morril Harriman, Gov. Beebe's chief of staff, following the announcement of a $102 million grant to expand broadband Internet access in the state Wednesday in Little Rock. - Photo by Staton Breidenthal

The University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences has received a grant worth more than $100 million to establish or upgrade broadband connections at nearly 500 health care and education sites across the state, the hospital officially announced Wednesday.

In addition to the $102,131,393 stimulus grant provided by the U.S. Department of Commerce, UAMS and its partners will add $26.4 million as a partial match.

Stimulus money will upgrade broadband access across Arkansas, improve medical videoconferencing

UAMS announces $102 million grant

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The money will be used to upgrade broadband connections across the state, bringing faster internet to rural areas and allowing video conferencing between doctors. Fiber connections will be installed or bandwidth will be upgraded in 135 Arkansas communities, including 81 hospitals, all two-year colleges, eight public libraries, all state human development centers, the state's trauma network and more.

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Dr. Curtis Lowery, chairman of UAMS’ department of obstetrics and gynecology and the leader of the grant team, told a packed room of supporters at the hospital that doctors have had successes in videoconferencing while treating patients, but that the process is hampered by slow internet connections in rural parts of the state.

"That's all changed - we have the broadband now," he said. "... Literally, if you can think of it, we can almost do it today."

Once the connections are upgraded, doctors will be able to quickly exchange X-rays, CT scans and other medical imaging and consult with one another or the patient about treatment options and diagnoses, Lowery said, adding it's already working in broadband-equipped parts of Arkansas.

A woman in Mena, for example, received treatment from a major stroke from doctors who consulted with each other through video. The huge investment will now allow such technology to spread to even the least populated parts of the state, Lowery said.

"Where you live should not determine whether you live or die," he said.

Rick Wade, deputy chief of staff of the U.S. Department of Commerce, said the investment funds will spur economic growth while also bettering Arkansas' medical system.

"Arkansas is about to have one of the most connected health care systems in the nation," he said. "This grant represents an investment that will pay dividends for generations, but there's no dollar figure for the lives saved, the new educational opportunities and the overall quality-of-life benefits this will bring to the people of Arkansas."

More than 3,700 miles of existing broadband lines will be leased for the network, while an additional 379 miles of broadband lines will be constructed.

The impact goes beyond just hospitals, according to the release. The network will help public schools, libraries, police and fired departments as well as long-term care facilities and provider clinics.

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The grant will be spent in five main areas:

• $28 million to construct fiber optic network routes to serve community colleges

• $22 million for telemedicine equipment for hospitals, clinics and home health sites

• $5 million for network equipment for community colleges

• $24 million for connectivity lease charges for participating sites

• $23 million for network infrastructure

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