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HRSA Awards $16 Million to Expand Telehealth Use in Rural Communities

August 12, 2016
by Heather Landi
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The Health Resources and Service Administration, within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has awarded four grants totaling $16 million to improve access to quality health care in rural communities.

The funds will be used to expand the use of telehealth technology for veterans and other patients, assist providers with quality improvement initiatives, and support policy-oriented research to better understand the challenges faced by rural communities.

Administered by the Federal Office of Rural Health Policy (FORHP) within HRSA, the awards will support 60 rural communities in 32 states, along with seven Rural Health Research Centers. 

“Rural and frontier communities face unique geographic barriers to obtaining comprehensive and convenient health care services,” Jim Macrae, acting administrator of HRSA, said in a statement. “These grants are designed to help individuals and communities access the high-quality care they need to live healthier lives.”

“These grants encourage and support collaboration at the community level, expanding and strengthening the safety net with networks of care in rural areas,” FORHP associate administrator Tom Morris said in a statement. “Collaboration among different providers of health and social services within a community means shared resources, shared expertise and shared innovations. 

The four grant programs consist of a Telehealth Network Grant Program with 21 awards totaling $6.2 million. For this program, 21 community health organizations will each receive approximately $300,000 annually for up to three years to build sustainable telehealth programs and networks in medically underserved areas. The program helps these communities build the human, technical and financial capacity to improve the quality of health information available to providers, patients and their families. According to HRSA, the program particularly encourages teleconnections to School Based Health Centers (SBHC) and all networks receiving this award include at least one SBHC. 

Through a $4.8 million grant, seven Rural Health Research Centers will each receive funding for four years to conduct rural-focused health services research that helps healthcare providers and decision-makers better understand the challenges faced by rural communities and provide information that will inform policies designed to improve access to healthcare and population health.

A Small Health Care Provider Quality Improvement project, which will received $4 million, will support 21 organizations in their efforts to improve the quality of care for populations with high rates of chronic conditions. Over a three-year project period, the organizations will receive from $130,000 to $200,000 each year. The funding will help support rural primary care providers with the implementation of quality improvement activities and furthering coordination of care for patients across health care settings.

Organizations participating in the program are required to use an evidence-based quality improvement model, assess practice changes and their impact on performance, and use health information technology (HIT) to collect and report data, according to HRSA. Objectives of the program include improved health outcomes for patients, enhanced chronic disease management, and better engagement of patients and their caregivers.

Three organizations will receive grants totaling $900,000 through the Flex Rural Veterans Health Access Program to help fund the use telehealth and health IT to bring mental health and other health services to veterans living in rural areas. Each of the three grantees will each receive $300,000 annually for up to three years, expanding existing networks of public and private health care providers and enhancing the sharing of clinical information electronically.

 

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