The Department of Health and Human Services announced Monday it is spreading nearly $60 million across 63 organizations to address staffing shortages and quality of health care in rural areas.

The funding, the bulk of which comes from the American Rescue Plan passed in March 2021, will be run through the Health Resources and Services Administration and will be distributed to 35 states. 

“Among the most important steps we can take to improve access to health care in rural communities, including access to behavioral health care, is to invest in growing the rural health care workforce,” HRSA Administrator Carole Johnson said in a release.

All told, the money will be allocated between five programs: the Rural Residency Planning and Development Program, Rural Public Health Workforce Training Network Program, Rural Veterans Health Access Program, Small Health Care Provider Quality Improvement Program, and Rural Public Health Workforce Training Network Technical Assistance Program.

Of the 35 states where projects are being funded, Missouri received the most funding with $6.18 million going to four different projects. Virginia was granted $5.52 million between four awards, New York received $4.92 million and five projects received funding. 

The funding will be used for health care job development, training and placement. The funding also includes support for dental hygienists, medical or dental assistants, community-based doulas, and other front-line health care workers. 

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“Workforce has been a challenge for rural communities as long as we've been talking about rural health care … rural areas have long struggled to recruit and retain physicians," Tom Morris, HHS associate administrator for rural health policy, told Agri-Pulse in an interview. "But it really goes beyond that, and cuts across just about every health profession you can imagine.” 

Some $46 million has been directed to help expand rural workforce development with $500,000 going toward technical training and certification programs. Another $9.7 million will help establish new rural residency programs in rural communities, helping to train resident physicians. Fifteen organizations will split $2.9 million that will go toward improving patient health outcomes and quality and delivery of care. 

tom Morris.jpgTom Morris, HRSA

Lastly, $1 million has been allocated to help improve access to health care services for veterans living in rural areas. The money is a collaboration between the HHS Federal Office of Rural Health Policy and the Veterans Health Administration to strengthen partnerships between rural health providers and the VA system. 

Morris says the awardees can begin to utilize the money right away, however, it will take some time to build up the infrastructure around the public health workforce programs. 

“It may take a little while to put some of the pieces in place, they may have to hire some of the trainers and things like that,” he said. But, Morris added, the Department hopes the awardees can “get going in the next couple of months.”

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