Federal Office of Rural Health Policy Announcements

Date: March 3, 2022

Historic Investments to Build Wealth in Rural America. A White House fact sheet details billions of dollars for rural communities through the American Rescue Plan and Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. The funding includes short term investments made in response to the pandemic, such as $398 million in funding to support COVID-19 testing and mitigation for over 1,500 small rural hospitals. Proposals for longer term investments include revitalization in coal, oil and gas, and power plant communities; support for local workforce programs and small businesses; and increasing the health care workforce and access to telehealth. 

National Strategy to Address Mental Health Crisis. Three directives form the strategy announced by the White House earlier this week: 1) Strengthen system capacity to expand the supply, diversity, and cultural competency of the mental health workforce, particularly in rural and underserved areas. This effort will include training and opportunities for paraprofessionals such as community health workers and peer recovery coaches. 2) Connect patients to care by expanding and strengthening access to mental health and recovery services. The President’s budget for fiscal year 2023 will propose that all health plans cover robust behavioral health services with an adequate network of providers, including three behavioral health visits each year without cost-sharing. 3) Create healthy environments by addressing social determinants of health. This will involve adjustment to standards and practices for online marketing and social media, expansion of early childhood and school-based intervention services, and mental health resources for incarcerated individuals. According to the 2020 results from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, approximately 7.7 million nonmetropolitan adults reported having any mental illness, accounting for 20.5 percent of nonmetropolitan adults. At the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), our work to implement this strategy means taking action.

HRSA COVID-19 Testing Supply Program Includes At-Home Self-Tests, Point-of-Care Testing Supplies, and N95 Masks. Rural Health Clinics (RHCs) that are certified by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services are among providers eligible to receive free N95 masks and at-home self-tests for COVID-19 to distribute at no cost to patients and members of the community. RHCs are also eligible to sign up to receive point-of-care testing supplies. For more information please email RHCTestKit@hrsa.gov.

HRSA February Roundup. In addition to more than $560 million for Provider Relief Fund payments, the agency awarded $66.5 million to increase confidence in COVID-19 vaccinations, and announced the availability of $19.2 million to expand training of primary care residents in rural and underserved communities. 

National Health Service Corps Celebrating 50 Years. The Health Resources and Services Administration’s (HRSA) National Health Service Corps (NHSC) is gearing up to celebrate 50 years of commitment, compassion, and community in rural America, and invites you to join in by sharing your experiences. Established with the Emergency Health Personnel Act of 1970, the NHSC placed its first clinicians in 20 communities in 13 states, which included physicians, dentists, and nurses. Currently, rural areas of the country are served by 7,133 NHSC clinicians at more than 8,500 NHSC-approved sites.

Know Your COVID-19 Community Level. Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) adjusted its guidance for wearing masks to allow for personal decision-making based on three levels of risk – low, medium, and high – in each community, taking into account population immunity from both vaccinations and infections. A well-fitting mask is still recommended for indoor public venues, including in K-12 schools, regardless of vaccination status. The CDC’s COVID-19 Vaccination Equity tab shows vaccination trends by urban/rural status. As of February 23, 2022, 48.5 percent of people in rural counties are fully vaccinated, while the range of vaccination coverage in the 5 urban/metro counties ranged from 52.3 percent (micropolitan) to 66.0 percent (large central metro).

Spread the Word About Vaccine Boosters. The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) released new resources – posters, flyers, videos, and talking points – to help promote the extra protection from COVID-19 boosters. All vaccinated adults aged 18+ are eligible for a booster. A few weeks ago, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) expanded booster eligibility to include adolescents ages 12 to 17, recommending that they receive a booster shot five months after their initial vaccination. The CDC also released a new resource, based on input from rural health departments and organizations, with 12 strategies to increase vaccine uptake in rural communities (pdf). Search by zip code to find nearby locations providing adult and pediatric vaccines and boosters for COVID-19 and the flu at vaccines.gov.

Ongoing: HRSA Payment Program for RHC Buprenorphine-Trained Providers. In June 2021, the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) launched an effort to improve access to substance use disorder treatment by paying for providers who are waivered to prescribe buprenorphine, a medication used to treat opioid use disorder. Rural Health Clinics (RHCs) still have the opportunity to apply for a $3,000 payment on behalf of each provider who trained to obtain the waiver necessary to prescribe buprenorphine after January 1, 2019. Approximately $1.5 million in program funding remains available for RHCs and will be paid on a first-come, first-served basis until funds are exhausted. Send questions to DATA2000WaiverPayments@hrsa.gov. There is ongoing availability of a free online course for waiver eligibility training from the American Osteopathic Academy of Addiction Medicine and the Providers Clinical Support System.