HHS investing $60M to boost rural healthcare workforce

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The HHS is investing $60 million through the Health Resources and Services Administration to strengthen healthcare workforces in rural communities through a number of initiatives, according to a Monday release.

About $46 million in funding through the American Rescue Plan will go to 31 recipients with the goal of expanding healthcare capacity in rural and tribal areas by creating job development, training and placement programs for dental hygienists, medical assistants, doulas and other community-based healthcare professionals.

Another $10 million will go to 13 organizations to create new medical residency programs in rural communities to boost the number of physicians training in those areas.

And about $4 million will go to 18 recipients with the goal of improving health outcomes and quality for rural patients and veterans living in those communities.

While the pandemic caused massive shifts in the healthcare labor market, rural communities have always faced shortages and issues recruiting and retaining a sufficient amount of talented medical staff.

About 14% of Americans live in rural communities, though those areas represent nearly 75% of primary care health professional shortage areas in the county, according to a February report from the Center for American Progress, a left-leaning think tank.

Health disparities have also been exacerbated in those areas, nearly tripling from 1999 to 2019 compared to urban areas, with rural patients experiencing higher rates of heart and respiratory disease, cancer, stroke and other illnesses, according to the HHS.

“Access to quality health care is at the heart of these issues,” the release said.

The latest funding builds on others from the Biden administration focused on bolstering rural healthcare. Last year, $16 billion was invested in such initiatives, according to the release.

“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 the release.