Mason Receives $500,000 USDA Grant to Expand Rural Telehealth Capabilities Amidst COVID-19 Pandemic

Fairfax, VA—The George Mason University College of Health and Human Services has received a $500,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to implement the Rural Opioid Telehealth Project, which will serve an estimated 177,000 rural, low-income residents of Virginia and West Virginia. The project will train medical professionals on how to appropriately prescribe opioids, screen for and identify the risk of opioid use disorder, and deliver treatment.

The telehealth initiative will be carried out through Mason and Partners Clinics and the new Population Health Center, which will serve as hub-sites for the telehealth training. The grant will enable Mason to connect medical professionals with low-income residents of Virginia and West Virginia who have limited access to specialized care, yet are in high-risk areas for opioid use disorder and chronic conditions. In addition to the main goal of addressing opioid dependency in rural areas, the grant will also help provide other telehealth services to underserved patients.

Nurse uses telehealth on laptopBy expanding the MAP Clinic’s telehealth capabilities, the MAP Clinics can now directly combat the Coronavirus pandemic by screening for COVID-19 while helping their patients battle chronic conditions, treat substance use disorders, and address behavioral health issues such as anxiety and stress. 

Thanks in part to the USDA Grant, the nurse-managed MAP Clinics were able to rapidly deploy HIPAA-compliant telehealth units to meet the demand of underserved communities where there remains limited access to COVID-19 screening and on-going care for chronic diseases. Each unit consists of a tablet pre-loaded with HIPAA-compliant apps, consent forms, and teaching packets to help the end-users at each site effectively screen for COVID-19 symptoms. The grant allows MAP Clinics to partner with rural organizations—like the mobile care provider The Health Wagon—to serve patients despite financial and transportation barriers and to reduce in person visits that can spread COVID-19 in rural parts of the Commonwealth.

In 2017, West Virginia had the highest of opioid-involved overdose deaths at a rate of 49.6 deaths per 100,000 people. In 2018, an average of three Virginia residents died of an opioid overdose daily. Despite a decline in opioid deaths in 2018, there is still a need for opioid treatment--especially for medically underserved counties throughout these states.

“The College is committed to combating COVID-19 and the opioid crisis—within the region and beyond. The Rural Opioid Telehealth Project is a tremendous opportunity to use telehealth capabilities to advance public health,” says Rebecca Sutter, principal investigator for the grant and co-director of the Mason and Partners Clinics and the Population Health Center.

About the College of Health and Human Services

George Mason University's College of Health and Human Services prepares students to become leaders and shape the public's health through academic excellence, research of consequence and interprofessional practice. The College enrolls 1,917 undergraduate students and 950 graduate students in its nationally recognized offerings, including: 5 undergraduate degrees, 12 graduate degrees, and 11 certificate programs. The College is transitioning to a college public health in the near future. For more information, visit

About George Mason University

George Mason University is Virginia's largest and most diverse public research university. Located near Washington, D.C., Mason enrolls 38,000 students from 130 countries and all 50 states. Mason has grown rapidly over the past half-century and is recognized for its innovation and entrepreneurship, remarkable diversity and commitment to accessibility. For more information, visit