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HHS providing $424 million to rural health clinics for COVID-19 testing

The goal is to bolster aid and services for those living in rural parts of the country, especially in underserved areas.

Jeff Lagasse, Associate Editor

Photo: filadendron/Getty Images

As part of the American Rescue Plan, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, through the Health Resources and Services Administration, is providing $424.7 million in funding to more than 4,200 Rural Health Clinics for COVID-19 testing and mitigation. Later this summer, HRSA will issue up to $35.3 million in additional funding to rural clinics that meet eligibility requirements.

The goal, HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra said in a statement Friday, is to bolster aid and services for those living in rural parts of the country, particularly those who live in underserved communities.

HRSA is funding RHCs based on the number of certified clinic sites they operate, providing $100,000 per clinic site. Clinics will use the funds to maintain and increase COVID-19 testing, expand access to testing for rural residents, and broaden efforts to mitigate the spread of the virus in ways tailored to their local communities. 

WHAT'S THE IMPACT

Rural Health Clinics are key healthcare access points and community resources. They have a special designation given to healthcare practices in underserved rural areas by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, to help ensure access to care for rural residents.

In May, HHS announced close to $1 billion in funds to strengthen rural coronavirus testing and response, which was expected to increase the number of vaccines sent to rural communities, expand testing and other COVID-19 prevention services, and work to increase vaccine confidence by partnering with local voices and community organizations.

HRSA's Rural Health Clinic COVID-19 Testing and Mitigation Program will provide $460 million to more than 4,600 RHCs across the country. RHCs will use the funds to maintain and increase COVID-19 testing, expand access to testing for rural residents, and broaden efforts to mitigate the spread of the virus in community-specific ways.

To further support COVID-19 testing in rural areas, HRSA will provide $398 million to existing grantees of the Small Rural Hospital Improvement Program to work with about 1,730 small rural hospitals (those with fewer than 50 beds) and critical access hospitals on COVID-19 testing and mitigation.

THE LARGER TREND

Targeting underserved communities has long been one of the stated goals of the Biden Administration, with HHS announcing in March a planned investment of $12 billion to expand COVID-19 testing.

As part of that effort, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is putting $2.25 billion into reducing health disparities among racial and ethnic minority groups and people living in rural areas. It is offering grants to public health departments that will improve testing and contact-tracing capabilities, develop innovative mitigation and prevention strategies, upgrade data collection and reporting, and address social determinants of health related to COVID-19.

An additional $150 million will go to vulnerable communities to assist administration of monoclonal antibody treatments. The money may be used to increase staffing, set up infusion centers and purchase necessary equipment, HHS said. The support will focus on communities that CDC has determined to be particularly vulnerable based on its social vulnerability index.

Also in March, HHS' Office of Minority Health said it was offering $250 million in grants to get COVID-19 vaccinations and safety information to underserved populations. The health literacy grants will go to localities, which will partner with community-based organizations to reach racial and ethnic minority, rural and other vulnerable populations.

ON THE RECORD

"Through our strong partnerships with RHCs, HRSA is committed to working together to mitigate the spread of the virus in rural communities," said HRSA Acting Administrator Diana Espinosa. "Today's funding will make it possible for more rural residents to access COVID-19 testing and will support and empower local community responses to COVID-19 so we can continue to turn the tide on this public health emergency."
 

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