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HHS awards nearly $500 million to support primary healthcare workforce

Two NHSC programs have more than doubled the number of NHSC clinicians treating patients with opioid use disorders.

Jeff Lagasse, Associate Editor

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Health Resources and Services Administration has announced nearly $500 million in awards to support, recruit and retain qualified health professionals and students through its National Health Service Corps, Nurse Corps and other workforce-development loan repayment and scholarship programs. 

About 17 million patients receive care from more than 16,000 NHSC members. An additional 1.8 million patients are cared for by more than 1,700 Nurse Corps clinicians. Through scholarship programs, over 1,500 NHSC and 600 Nurse Corps primary care students are in school or residency preparing for future service.

Two NHSC programs first introduced in 2019 have more than doubled the number of NHSC clinicians treating patients with opioid use disorders. The NHSC Substance Use Disorder Workforce Loan Repayment Program (SUD Workforce LRP) and NHSC Rural Community Loan Repayment Program are now supporting more than 2,800 providers. Overall, one in three, or 31%, of NHSC clinicians serve in rural communities.

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Additionally, the NHSC has expanded efforts to recruit clinicians who are highly qualified to treat opioid addiction. This year saw a 63% increase in awardees, from 512 to 832, with DATA 2000 waivers, which demonstrates that they are trained in a comprehensive approach that incorporates medication and behavioral health counseling.

In support of Indian Health/Tribal/Urban sites, the NHSC set aside $15.2 million of FY 2020 funding and provided 295 awards to clinicians at 195 tribal health centers to further increase access to care that's critically needed in these communities.

WHAT'S THE IMPACT?

These FY 2020 awards support a variety of HRSA programs.

The National Health Service Corps Loan Repayment Program ($224.1 million) provides 4,280 new awards and 2,355 one-year continuation awards to clinicians working in primary care medicine, dentistry, or as a nurse-midwife, physician assistant, or nurse practitioner at an NHSC-approved site in exchange for serving in areas of greatest need.

The National Health Service Corps Substance Use Disorder Workforce Loan Repayment Program ($77.2 million) provides 1,206 new awards to clinicians directly involved in the treatment of substance use disorders and the recruitment and retention of health professionals needed in underserved areas to expand access to SUD treatment and prevent overdose deaths.

The National Health Service Corps Scholarship Program ($60.2 million) provides 251 new awards and 12 continuation awards to students pursuing primary care training leading to a degree in medicine or dentistry, or a degree as a nurse midwife, physician assistant or nurse practitioner, in exchange for providing primary healthcare services in areas of greatest need.

The National Health Service Corps Rural Community Loan Repayment Program ($40.1 million) provides 477 new awards in coordination with the Rural Communities Opioid Response Program from HRSA's Federal Office of Rural Health Policy to provide evidence-based substance use treatment, assist in recovery and prevent overdose deaths in rural areas.

The National Health Service Corps Students to Service Loan Repayment Program ($17.3 million) provides 148 new awards. This program provides loan repayment assistance to medical and dental students in their last year of school in return for their choosing primary care as a practice focus and working in rural and urban areas of greatest need.

The Nurse Corps Loan Repayment Program ($51 million) provides 465 new awards and 291 one-year continuation awards to nurses in exchange for a commitment to serve at a healthcare facility with a critical shortage of nurses or serve as nurse faculty at an accredited school of nursing. Of these awards, the program provides 41 new awards and 27 continuation awards to nurse faculty who teach registered nurses or advanced practice nurses at eligible public or private schools of nursing.

The Nurse Corps Scholarship Program ($26.4 million) provides 244 new awards and 13 continuation awards to nursing students in exchange for a commitment to work at least two years in a facility with critical nursing shortages.

The Native Hawaiian Health Scholarship Program ($1.4 million) provides nine new awards to Native Hawaiian healthcare professionals trained in those disciplines and specialties most needed to deliver quality, culturally competent, primary health services to Native Hawaiians in the State of Hawaii.

The Faculty Loan Repayment Program ($1.1 million) provides 20 new awards to health professions educators from economically and environmentally disadvantaged backgrounds in exchange for serving as a faculty member in an accredited and eligible health professions school. The program also encourages participants to promote careers in their respective healthcare fields.

ON THE RECORD

"National Health Service and Nurse Corps clinicians have been heroic frontline providers in high-need rural, urban and tribal communities for decades, and their service has proven only more essential during the COVID-19 pandemic," said HHS Secretary Alex Azar. "This year's nearly half a billion dollars in awards will help Corps clinicians continue their work as part of HHS's efforts to address health disparities, tackle substance abuse, and expand access to care for vulnerable Americans."

"During the COVID-19 pandemic, the efforts of our NHSC and Nurse Corps clinicians have been tremendous," said HRSA Administrator Tom Engels. "HRSA has provided flexibilities that ensure that these clinicians are able to do the work they're called to do – care for and serve the patients in their communities where they may be the only healthcare provider for miles."
 

Twitter: @JELagasse
Email the writer: jeff.lagasse@himssmedia.com

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