Healthcare Business News

Regional News/South: Homing in on disparities

Grant program targets chronic health risks

By Paul Barr
Posted: January 26, 2013 - 12:01 am ET

Residents of the Mississippi Delta region are more likely to die from a number of conditions, including diabetes, heart disease and stroke, and federal officials are trying to improve efforts to reduce those disparities by taking a more focused approach.

The Office of Rural Health Policy refined its Delta States Rural Development Network Grant Program in its latest round of proposed funding to target three chronic health risks—cardiovascular disease, diabetes and obesity—with locally implemented and evidence-based collaborative efforts. The office, part of HHS' Health Resources and Services Administration, is funding the program with as much as $5.6 million a year over three years.

The multistate, regional rural grant program seeks to reduce disparities in a region where research has indicated residents are 1.28 times more likely to die from heart disease and 1.39 times more likely to die from diabetes.

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The grants will focus on some of the conditions with the greatest disparities in the region, said Nisha Patel, director of the Community Based Division of the Office of Rural Health Policy. The Delta region encompasses parts of eight states: Alabama, Arkansas, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri and Tennessee. In previous versions of the grants, the requirements were more open-ended, Patel said.

In addition, the grants require that the applicants include collaboration between organizations in multiple counties and parishes as part of their proposal. The goal is to encourage “creative and lasting relationships” among service providers and health systems in the targeted rural areas covered by the Delta States program, according to the application. “The consortium piece is really key,” Patel said.

And in awarding the grants, the Office of Rural Health Policy will give preference to applicants employing proven approaches, reflecting a broader priority of the office to support evidence-based programs.

The applicant programs should aim to improve one or more of the following: attitudes among the public regarding their ability to improve health; behavior of individuals, such as increasing exercise or improving eating habits; health of residents as measured by such things as weight or blood pressure; systems of care or prevention; knowledge among residents of self-management strategies and disease risk factors; and policies and procedures.

Another unusual addition to the grant is that applicants may seek to include workplace chronic health improvement strategies as part of an add-on grant of $500,000 from the Delta Regional Authority, a federal-state partnership focused on improving the economy.

“Business needs a healthy workforce,” said Christopher Masingill, federal co-chairman of the authority, which is supplying the supplemental grants through what it calls the Healthy Workforce Challenge. The economic development funds are intended to allow grant awardees in the federal program to also apply their efforts in a workplace setting, Masingill said. “It's a good fit.”

The federal grant applications are due March 18, and the Delta Regional Authority requires that a separate letter of intent to apply for their funds be sent by Feb. 15.

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