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Sep 3, 2020 — The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) released the Rural Action Plan, a product developed by HHS’s Rural Task Force in collaboration with 18 HHS agencies and offices.

The plan seeks to strengthen coordination within HHS departments to better serve rural communities and address several emerging health challenges, including health disparities, chronic disease, maternal mortality, and limited access to mental health services.

Announces a four-point strategy to transform rural health and human services that targets: building a sustainable health and human services model for rural communities, leveraging technology and innovation, focusing on preventing disease and mortality, and increasing rural access to care.

The four points of the strategy are:

  • Building a sustainable health and human services model for rural communities, including actions such as:
  • Funding the Rural Healthcare Providers Transition Project, a new program to provide support for hospitals and rural health clinics transitioning to value-based models.
  • Expanding the Community Health Aide Program, which provides education and training of tribal community health providers to increase access to quality health care, health promotion and disease prevention services.
  • Funding the Integrated Rural Community Care project to connect federally qualified health centers with rural hospitals to better coordinate preventive, primary and emergency health care.

Leveraging technology and innovation, including:

  • Supporting a new HHS Health Challenge to leverage technology to improve screening and management of post-partum depression for rural women.
  • Providing more than $8 million in grant funding for the Telehealth Network Grant Program to provide emergency care consults via telehealth to rural providers without emergency care specialists.
  • Developing new flexibility for Medicare Advantage (MA) plans to improve access to managed care options in rural areas through changes in network adequacy assessments for MA plans and to take into account the impact of telehealth providers in contracted networks.

Focusing on preventing disease and mortality, including:

  • Creating the Healthy Rural Hometown Initiative, a new initiative to identify strategies to address the growing rural disparities related to the five leading causes of avoidable death, including stroke, heart disease, cancer, respiratory disease and injury/substance use.
  • Investing over $2 million in additional funding for rural cancer control grants with a focus on geographically underserved rural areas with deep and/or persistent poverty, building on a multi-year research effort to increase prevention efforts and enhance cancer treatment efforts in rural communities.
  • Investing more than $2 million in funding in 2020 as part of a four-year $8 million project to identify evidence-based interventions that can reduce health risks faced by rural Americans.

Increasing rural access to care, including:

  • Issuing a new policy brief examining the workforce shortage challenges state-based licensure restrictions create for rural residents by failing to let health care clinicians practice to the full extent of their training.
  • Investing $5 million in FY 2020 to recruit and train EMS personnel in rural areas.
  • Awarding $8.25 million to 11 communities who develop new rural residency programs through the Rural Residency Planning and Development Program.

Read the action plan here: https://www.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/hhs-rural-action-plan.pdf – PDF*

Source: RHIhub This Week; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

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