Announcements from the Federal Office of Rural Health Policy

January 4, 2018

What’s New

Hepatitis C Increases Attributed to Opioid Epidemic.  In a new report published in the American Journal of Public Health, researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) explain findings that suggest the national increase in acute Hepatitis C Virus  (HCV) infection is related to the country’s opioid epidemic and rising rates of injection drug use.  Using data from the CDC’s hepatitis surveillance system and from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) national database on admissions to substance use disorder treatment facilities, the researchers found that the rises in both HCV infection and reported treatment admissions are concurrent.  One year ago, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services issued a National Viral Hepatitis Action Plan that includes integrating viral hepatitis prevention and care with primary health care services as a way of better meeting needs of people in rural areas, where recent research shows higher impact of the opioid epidemic.

Funding Opportunities

Grants to Address Local Drug Crises – January 29.  Current and former Drug-Free Communities grantees are eligible to apply for 55 awards of up to $50,000 each to prevent and reduce the abuse of opioids or methamphetamines and the abuse of prescription medications among youth ages 12-18.  The funding is part of the ongoing effort of the Office of National Drug Control Policy to find local solutions to drug use across the country.  

Addressing Violence Against Women in Rural Areas – January 31.  The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) will make 45 awards of up to $750,000 each to support projects in rural jurisdictions that address and prevent sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence and stalking.  Eligible applicants include city, county and state governments, Native American Tribal governments, nonprofits and public institutions of higher education.

Tribal Practices for Wellness in Indian Country – February 20. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will make 28 awards of up to $150,000 each for tribal practices that draw upon place, culture, history and spiritual strength to build community resiliency, reduce morbidity and mortality due to heart disease, stroke, cancer and diabetes, and to reduce risk factors for chronic disease among American Indians and Alaska Natives.  These practices were identified by the Tribal Advisory Committee to help CDC better understand what tribal health leaders believe will keep their people healthy and well.  The strategies tribes and urban Indian health centers will implement as part of this funding opportunity will draw upon the common value of honoring traditional practices, honoring elders, respecting nature, and emphasizing clan/community importance.

Campus Suicide Prevention – February 20.  Institutions of higher learning, including community colleges, Tribal colleges and universities, Historically Black Colleges and Universities and others are eligible for funding from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration to develop an evidence-based approach to mental health services and suicide prevention on college campuses.  In October, the CDC reported that suicide rates in the U.S. increased more than 20% from 2001 to 2015, with consistently higher rates in rural counties.

Medicare Rural Hospital Flexibility Program EvaluationFebruary 23.  One single entity or consortium will be awarded $1,500,000 in a cooperative agreement to collect and analyze data for improvement efforts in Critical Access Hospitals (CAHs).  The resources provided to CAHs will inform their financial and operational improvement, quality of care reporting and improvement, Emergency Medical System (EMS) integration and population health activities.  CAHs will have access to analyses of relevant data and evidence-based best practices to improve their outcomes. For more information, attend a technical assistance call for applicants on Thursday, January 18 at 2:00 pm ET.  Email Owmy Bouloute at for more details and dial-in information.

Nurse Anesthetist Traineeship Program – February 28.  The Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) will use total funding of $4.85 million for 80 awards to schools of nursing, nursing centers, academic health centers and state and local governments, among other eligible applicants, to help meet the cost of traineeships for individuals in Nurse Anesthesia degree programs.  Nurse Anesthetists are on the front lines of the opioid epidemic, especially in rural areas, where they are often the sole provider of anesthesia services.  As part of their training, these individuals learn about multi-modal pain management and opioid addiction and treatment, which are a key part of helping communities address the opioid crisis.

Guaranteed Loans for Rural Rental Housing – Ongoing through 2021. The U.S. Department of Agriculture seeks project proposals from private lenders for the Section 538 Guaranteed Rural Rental Housing Program (GRRHP), which backs loans to increase the supply of affordable rental housing for lower-income families in rural communities. Eligible borrowers, including state and local governments, nonprofit agencies, and federally-recognized tribes, may use the loans to finance construction of new multi-family housing units with affordable rents. Research shows housing problems contribute to poorer health, particularly in rural areas facing disproportionate poverty and inadequate housing conditions.  Rural health care leaders may encourage their local lenders to apply to increase funding for housing improvements and lower rent in their communities.  Contact your local Rural Development office for a list of current lenders participating in GRRHP. Interested health care leaders in rural areas can also find more ideas for linking housing to health care.

Policy Updates

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Comments Requested: Addressing Needs in Rural Schools – February 20.  The Every Student Succeeds Act of 2015 requires the U.S. Education Department (ED) to publish a preliminary report on methods to more effectively meet the unique needs of rural schools in education policy.  The ED will incorporate public comments in a final report describing actions to increase the participation of rural schools in developing educational policy.   In the section of the report titled “Additional Actions the Department Can Take to Increase Rural Stakeholder Input,” the ED specifically asks for feedback on their proposals to meaningfully increase participation of rural schools and local education agencies in the department’s procedures and policies.  Education is a key component of social and economic factors that impact rural health.

CMS Updates Hospital Star Ratings.  CMS recently announced revisions to the hospital star ratings reported on Hospital Compare, the website providing patients and families with information on how well hospitals deliver care.  Under the previous rating system, more than one-third of rural hospitals had no rating.   A technical expert panel was formed to update the star ratings in response to stakeholders’ concerns about the underlying scoring.  See the CMS QualityNet website for details about the new methodology.

Resources, Learning Events and Technical Assistance

Medical-Legal Partnership in Action – Tuesday, January 9 at 2:00 pm ET.  This 90-minute HRSA webinar will help participants understand medical-legal partnerships and discuss opportunities for engagement between health providers and civil legal aid offices.  Presenters will include subject experts from HRSA, The National Center for Medical-Legal Partnership, and the Montana Primary Care Association with a presentation on how they provided legal assistance despite the rural location of health providers.

County Health Rankings & Roadmaps 101 – Tuesday, January 9 at 3:00 pm ET.  Two years ago, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s annual report on the nation’s health was one of the first to recognize higher rates of premature death in rural areas.  Ahead of the 2018 County Health Rankings and Roadmaps, the RWJF will hold a webinar on the data showing what influences health, and how to use that information in effective strategies to improve health at the community level.

Broadband Under the Community Reinvestment Act – Thursday, January 11 at 3:00 pm ET.  This hour-long Connecting Communities webinar will highlight opportunities for local financial institutions to receive consideration for infrastructure investment under the Community Reinvestment Act administered by the Federal Reserve.  Each of the 12 Federal Reserve Banks seek to promote economic development by investing in improvements to essential community infrastructure for health services, education, public safety, affordable housing, or broadband services, among others.  Lower-income and rural communities continue to face diminished access to broadband and many services that rely on high-speed internet services, including telehealth.

Cancer Prevention/Control Research in Appalachian Kentucky – Wednesday, January 17 at 2:00 pm ET.  Dr. Robin Vanderpool of the National Cancer Institute will discuss best practices and lessons learned from the Appalachian Center for Cancer Education, Screening, and Support (ACCESS) and the UK Rural Cancer Prevention Center (RCPC) projects.

Strategies to Combat Opioid Use in Rural Communities – Thursday, January 18 at 2:00 pm ET.  This one-hour webinar hosted by the FORHP-funded Rural Health Research Gateway will  discuss cost-effective, evidence-based prevention, treatment, and recovery programs that have been successfully implemented in rural communities. It will conclude by describing community organizing strategies to engage a wide range of local stakeholders to reduce the burden of opioid use.

National Drug and Alcohol Facts Week – January 22-28.  Start planning now for this week-long event aimed at raising teenagers’ awareness and knowledge of facts about drug and alcohol. Launched in 2010 by scientists at the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), the annual observance relies on locally-planned school and community events that present scientific facts about drug and alcohol use, what causes addiction, and evidence-based strategies for helping friends or family.  NIDA provides an online guide for planning and promoting events, as well as free booklets and other resources for teens.  Recent research has shown that roughly 10% of rural teens meet criteria for alcohol use disorder, and that rural areas have a higher rate of drug overdose deaths.

FDA Opioid Policy Steering Committee Meeting – Tuesday, January 30 at 8:30 am ET.  The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) established the Opioid Policy Steering Committee (OPSC) to explore and develop strategies to combat the opioid crisis.  OPSC will hold a public meeting to collect stakeholder input on new approaches FDA might adopt to promote the safe use of opioid painkillers and reduce overprescribing that may contribute to new addiction.  New ideas may benefit rural communities where CDC research shows rates of prescription opioid misuse and overdose death are highest.  Comments on the proposed strategy for prescribing will be accepted through March 16.   If you wish to present at the meeting or attend (either in person or via webcast) please register by Tuesday, January 16th.

Approaching Deadlines

Researching Health Behavior for Young People – January 7
Pro Bono Legal Services – Letters of Intent – January 8
Treasury Loans for Rural Economic Development – January 9
Nominations: Experts for Improving MIPS – January 12
Public Health Leadership Academy – January 12
Comments Requested: Changes to Medicare Advantage/Part D Plans – January 16
Preventing Intimate Partner Violence – January 16
Preventive Medicine Residency Program – January 26
Comments Requested: Rules for School Lunches – January 29
Training Nurses for Primary Care – January 29
Grants to Address Local Drug Crises – January 29
Comments Requested: DOL Updates Senior Employment Program – January 30
Training and Enhancement – Primary Care Physicians and PAs – January 30
Addressing Violence Against Women in Rural Areas – January 31
PCORI  Engagement Awards – February 1
Comments Requested: Revised Head Start Quality Measures – February 6
Comments Requested: USDA Child Nutrition Programs – February 12
Understanding Vaccination Coverage in Rural Areas – February 13
Tribal Practices for Wellness in Indian Country – February 20
Comments Requested: Addressing Needs in Rural Schools – February 20
Campus Suicide Prevention – February 20
Medicare Rural Hospital Flexibility Program EvaluationFebruary 23
Nurse Anesthetist Traineeship Program – February 28
Comments Requested: FDA Opioid Prescribing Guidelines – March 16
Guaranteed Loans for Rural Rental Housing – Ongoing through 2021
Drinking Water and Waste Disposal for Rural and Native Alaskan Villages – Ongoing
HIT Strategies for Patient-Reported Outcome Measures – Ongoing
HIT to Improve Health Care Quality and Outcomes – Ongoing
Community Facilities Program –  Ongoing
Summer Food Service Program – Ongoing