Rural health continues to struggle.
As the National Rural Health Association (NRHA) highlighted, “The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has greatly exacerbated the strain on rural providers, as well as healthcare workforce shortages across rural America.”
Other telling statistics:
- Twenty rural hospitals closed in 2020. “In 21 states, 25 percent or more of the rural hospitals were at immediate risk” due to persistent financial losses and/or low or non-existent financial reserves.
- “Compared with their urban counterparts, residents of rural counties have a higher prevalence of chronic conditions such as diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and obesity; higher rates of substance use, including opioids, tobacco, and alcohol use; and higher rates of preventable death, including from suicide. People in rural areas also have a higher prevalence of serious mental illness.”
- The prevalence of obesity is 16+ percent higher and diagnosed diabetes prevalence is more than 20 percent higher in rural areas.
- “Rural areas account for approximately 60 percent of federally designated Health Professional Shortage Areas, which include shortages of primary care, dental health, and behavioral health practitioners.”
- The number of primary care clinicians per 10,000 people is five in rural areas compared to eight in metro areas.
Given the pervasive health challenges in rural America, it is gratifying to see the Biden Administration establish a new program to support rural healthcare providers and award $43 million in emergency rural healthcare grants last month, the first installment of an initiative that is expected to grant $500 million.
Emergency Rural Healthcare Grants
In August 2021, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) created the Emergency Rural Healthcare Grants program as a part of the American Rescue Plan. The grants are intended to help rural healthcare facilities, tribes and communities expand access to healthcare services and nutrition assistance. The USDA is administering the funds through Rural Development’s Community Facilities Program.
There are two tracks of funding:
- Track One: Recovery Grants offer immediate relief to address the economic impacts from the COVID-19 emergency. With grants ranging from $25,000-$1 million, the USDA expects to distribute approximately $350 million. The USDA began accepting applications in October 2021 and will continue to do until all funds are awarded.The application has many components. In short, hospitals need to understand their service area, research their population and median household income, understand funding priorities and create a strategic plan based on priorities and the community health needs assessment (CHNA).
For more information, see pages 5-7 of Emergency Rural Healthcare Grants Track 1: Recovery Grants Application Guide. To receive an invitation to apply or discuss an application, contact your local Rural Development office, ideally by phone. To view a list of offices along with contact information, click here.
- Track Two: Impact Grants “advance ideas and solutions to solve regional rural healthcare problems to support the long-term sustainability of rural health.” The USDA expects to award up to $125 million in the form of grants ranging from $5 to $10 million. Track two applications are closed.
Ninety-three rural health organizations and community groups across 22 states are getting funds, including two QHR Health client hospitals:
- Neosho Memorial Regional Medical Center is receiving $434,300 “…to purchase and install telehealth infrastructure and upgrade health information systems…. The critical access hospital has faced unprecedented challenges related to the COVID-19 pandemic.”
- Coffeyville Regional Medical Center Incorporated is receiving $657,700 “… to purchase medical equipment, medical vehicles, and a pharmacy storage system to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus and support the hospital’s COVID-19 response in rural southeast Kansas.”
In the coming weeks and months, the USDA will announce additional awardees for Emergency Rural Healthcare Grants.
For additional information about how QHR Health Grant Resource Center helps independent, community hospitals, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.