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HHS Awards $5.3M to Boost Health IT for Rural Areas

September 16, 2013
by Rajiv Leventhal
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The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) has announced grants of nearly $5.3 million to expand the rural health IT workforce and to use telehealth to improve mental health services for veterans in rural areas.

Close to $4.4 million will go to rural organizations in 15 states to recruit and train current healthcare staff, local unemployed workers, rural veterans, and other potential students to meet the technology needs of rural hospitals and clinics. Community colleges will work with local rural healthcare providers to develop rural-focused health information technology (HIT) training programs. Students selected for these programs will gain electronic health record (EHR) technology certification, apprenticeship training, and the opportunity for employment in rural hospitals and clinics.

“Health IT is growing in rural communities, and its use is even more critical now as we’re expanding access to patients living in those areas,” HHS secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in a statement. “This investment is designed to attract, train and retain HIT specialists who might otherwise seek education and job opportunities away from their own rural communities where their skills are greatly needed.” 

Additionally, a total of $900,000 will be awarded to Maine, Montana, and Alaska to improve the quality of mental health and other critical healthcare services for veterans living in rural areas. Each state will receive $300,000 to enhance crisis intervention services through telehealth technologies. These services will enable health providers to coordinate care wirelessly and electronically across long distances to detect and treat post-traumatic stress disorders (PTSD), traumatic brain injury, and other injuries for rural veterans.

The grants, funded by HHS’ Health Resources and Services Administration, are part of an ongoing collaboration between HHS and U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to implement a 21st century information infrastructure for rural health.  The programs are designed to build on existing networks of care among healthcare entities such as critical access hospitals, home health agencies, community mental health clinics and other providers of mental health services. 

These grants also align with the goals of the White House Rural Council, initiated by President Barack Obama in 2011 to better meet the needs of rural communities through collaboration between federal agencies.

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