HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has announced $32 million in funding to help improve access to healthcare services for rural Americans. The funding will be allocated to seven programs that are administered by the Office of Rural Health Policy in HHS' Health Resources and Services Administration.
“The grants will strengthen partnerships among rural health providers,” HRSA Administrator Mary Wakefield said in a news release about the funds. “Funds will be used to recruit and retain rural healthcare professionals and modernize the healthcare infrastructure in rural areas.”
According to HHS, more than $22 million will go toward the Medicare Rural Hospital Flexibility Program, which supports improvements in healthcare quality in communities served by critical access hospitals; efforts to improve the hospitals’ financial and operating performance; and the development of collaborative regional and local delivery systems. More than 1,300 hospitals have converted to critical access hospital status with help from this program, HHS said.
Meanwhile, more than $3 million will go toward the Rural Health Workforce Development Program, a new, one-time pilot program intended to support the development of rural health networks that seek to improve recruitment and retention of healthcare professionals in rural communities.
The funding will also allocate more than $2 million for the Telehealth Network Grant Program, which helps communities build capacity to develop sustainable telehealth programs and networks; more than $1 million for the Telehealth Resource Center Grant Program, which provides technical assistance to help healthcare organizations implement cost-effective telehealth programs; nearly $1 million for the Flex Rural Veterans Health Access Program, a new program to help eligible organizations coordinate networks aid rural veterans access mental health and other healthcare services; about $770,000 for the Frontier Community Health Integration Demonstration program to develop and test models for healthcare delivery in frontier areas by improving access to care and the integration of care delivery to Medicare beneficiaries; and nearly $500,000 to the Rural Training Track Technical Assistance Demonstration program, which will analyze the challenges facing Rural Training Track residency program sites and provide technical assistance to increase the number of family-medicine physicians who choose to take part in these rural residencies.