Broadband Expansion Will Help Ohioans Learn and Thrive
Addressing broadband internet access in Ohio
When I founded Compass Point Partners in Wellness in Cincinnati in 2006, few could imagine just how important and effective providing online medical services, called telehealth, would become. As we have grown to add offices in Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton, and Toledo, we find that, no matter where our clients reside, telehealth services are in demand. The COVID-19 pandemic has made telehealth an increasingly popular option for our clients.
Unfortunately, telehealth has a serious limitation for both patients and providers: the need for a broadband connection. The latest data from Broadband Ohio, the statewide initiative to connect all of Ohio to high-speed Internet connections, indicates that nearly one million Ohioans lack the technological infrastructure to access high-speed internet at the level needed for accessing medical services from home. That one million figure is in addition to those unable to afford such access.
Our practice is home to over 75 clinicians (licensed social workers, clinical counselors and marriage & family therapists) and sees close to 1,000 clients per week—both in person and via teletherapy. Clients of all ages work with us to address issues that range from depression and anxiety to suicidal ideation and self-harm.
In many instances, our providers have had to abandon teletherapy sessions with clients in rural areas or in areas with limited broadband because the client’s connection was unreliable, spotty or entirely non-functional. In some instances, they can resort to a phone call to complete the session, but too often the call can’t take place. Either way, optimal access to mental health care—especially in a pandemic and for under-served communities—relies on broadband connectivity.
Besides providing potentially life-saving therapy, broadband access is crucial for students, educators, and workers. Like most employers, we often struggle to find enough qualified workers to fill our positions, and studies show Ohio lags behind the national average in post-secondary attainment. In fact, according to a recent brief by ReadyNation, an organization of over 3,000 business executives who promote public policies and programs that build a stronger workforce and economy, only 49.2 percent of Ohioans have earned a postsecondary degree, certificate, or credential, ranking Ohio 31st in the nation.
Students need broadband to learn, teachers need it to teach, and workers need it to do their jobs. Yet, studies also show that Ohio is behind several nearby states in broadband access, ranking 24th in the nation.
We can help address the broadband access shortage by passing Ohio House Bill 13. The bill helps to bridge the digital divide and increases opportunities for educational attainment, workforce growth, and telehealth services. House Bill 13 will allow the state to work with service providers to offset some of the “middle-mile” costs, extending much-needed broadband into communities with lower population density. The pandemic has shown that we can no longer afford to let sparsely-populated communities, often just minutes from Cincinnati or Dayton, fall behind.
Existing state revenues will fund House Bill 13, which makes sense, considering the basic importance of high-speed Internet access for all Ohioans in these times. The bill passed the Ohio House with strong bipartisan support, but time is running out for it to be taken up by the Ohio Senate. For the wellness of Ohioans and competitiveness of our workforce, this needs to happen.
CHARLES ROBERTS , ED.D, LPCC-S, LICDC-CS, founded Compass Point Wellness Centers in 2006. He specializes in DBT, Eating Disorders, Addiction, Mood Disorders, Anxiety/Stress, OCD, Bipolar, Personality Disorder, Schizophrenia, PTSD/ Trauma, Phobias. He has held positions in direct patient care in inpatient and residential settings at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital and the Lindner Center of Hope. He also served as an Adjunct Professor at the University of Cincinnati.