The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recently announced $48 million in available funds to expand public health programs in rural and tribal communities, which was authorized under the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021. The funding will be distributed through HHS’s Federal Office of Rural Health Policy under the Health, Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) and are available under the Rural Public Health Workforce Training Network (RPHWTN), a new grant program created to expand public health capacity in an effort to more effectively address the health needs of rural communities impacted by COVID-19.
In addition to the already strained healthcare workforce nationwide, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that rural communities often have a higher population of indigent residents, a higher incidence of comorbidities or disabilities and limited access to health care facilities with intensive care capabilities, ultimately placing them at higher risk of contracting COVID-19 associated morbidity and mortality. The RPHWTN was designed to create a partnership between workforce training programs and the rural health care entities that need trained public health professionals to address these unique issues and support rural populations. Program funding will be used to strengthen health care job development, training and placement in rural communities by connecting workers to hospitals and clinics participating in the program.
Approximately 70 percent of counties are classified as rural, having populations of less than 50,000. Counties that are partially or fully rural are directly eligible for the funds and should apply before the March 18 application deadline. Counties applying for these critical funds will be required to include a description of their experience and/or capacity serving rural populations.