New Report: Life in Rural America

New Report: Life in Rural America.

  The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) published a report this week with findings from a survey of rural adults “to understand the current views and experiences of rural Americans on economic and health issues.”  Respondents were optimistic overall, citing positive job prospects and connection with their communities.  Of the challenges in rural areas, more than 25 percent of those surveyed cited drug abuse as the biggest problem facing their local community.  The second largest concern, at 21 percent, was economic, including poverty and the availability of jobs.  The report challenges the idea that all rural Americans are the same and examines major differences between young and old, those with and without a college degree, and between White residents and minorities.  Earlier this year, RWJF issued its annual County Health Rankings. That report included an explicit call to action for community leaders to examine local data and learn more about the social and economic factors in each community that impact health outcomes.

Surgeon General’s Call to Action on Community Health and Prosperity

Surgeon General’s Call to Action on Community Health and Prosperity.

Rural stakeholders have until Monday, November 5th to offer comment on the Surgeon General’s efforts focusing on how local investments have the potential to improve the health and prosperity of communities.  This opportunity for public comment provides a way to ensure that the broader national effort includes a specific focus on rural issues.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is working with the Surgeon General’s Office on this effort and the goal is to use the information from the public to help guide this effort.  Rural stakeholders are encouraged to submit written views, recommendations, and data about how investing in communities can improve health and prosperity and unique characteristics of rural communities that need to be taken into account in the larger effort by the Surgeon General.

Updated trends in healthcare insurance for Pennsylvanians

Our report on healthcare insurance coverage in Pennsylvania has been updated with data for the year 2016. Using the U.S. Census Bureau’s Small Area Health Insurance Estimates (SAHIE), our report identifies statewide and county-level trends in health insurance coverage by age, sex, and income.
This year’s report shows that overall, the uninsured rate fell from 7.6 percent to 6.8 percent of Pennsylvanians. The greatest decreases from 2015 to 2016 occurred for those with incomes at 138 percent of the Federal Poverty Level or below (down from14.0 percent to 12.0 percent) and those age 18 to 39 years (down from 11.6 percent to 10.0 percent).
Lancaster County had the highest uninsured rate overall in 2016 at 10.7 percent and for children under 18 years of age (12.1%) and women (10.7%). Philadelphia County had the second-highest uninsured rate overall at 9.7 percent and had the highest rates for men (11.2%) and persons age 18 to 39 years (14.2%).
Click here to read more in our updated report, Healthcare in Pennsylvania.
Click here to explore our updated Healthcare in Pennsylvania dashboard to explore county level trends.


Penn Highlands Healthcare
JC Blair Health System
For release:    October 11, 2018
Contact:          Mary Jo Yebernetsky, (814) 375-3495 (Penn Highlands Healthcare)
Christine Gildea, (814) 643-8548 (JC Blair)




Huntingdon/DuBois, PA – The Boards of Directors of both J. C. Blair Health System, Inc. and Penn Highlands Healthcare have signed a Letter of Intent, or LOI, to negotiate an affiliation agreement between the two entities that would integrate J. C. Blair into the Penn Highlands Healthcare system.

  1. C. Blair underwent an extensive Request for Proposal, or RFP, process and previously signed an LOI with Post Acute Medical, LLC, earlier this year.  Despite best intentions from both parties, it became apparent after further discussions that the long-term strategic vision for the hospital no longer aligned and no longer fit the guiding principles as outlined by the J. C. Blair Board at the beginning of the process.  During the past few months, it became evident that Penn Highlands, also a part of the original RFP process, would be a better long-term partner to meet the healthcare needs of the community.

According to J. C. Blair Board Chairman Fred Price, “Through the due diligence process, Post Acute Medical and J.C. Blair realized that merging would not produce the best outcomes for either organization – it just wasn’t a good fit. We believe that Penn Highlands Healthcare is a good fit.”

The affiliation with Penn Highlands, which is expected to take effect in early 2019, is designed to strengthen the delivery of healthcare services by the Huntingdon County based health care provider.  The board’s key objectives that guided the search for a new partner included:

  • Continue the mission, vision and values of J. C. Blair Health System
  • Maintain and expand key programs and services
  • Attract and retain high-quality physicians in a wide range of specialties
  • Preserve jobs in Huntingdon County, provide competitive wages, benefits and retirement plans
  • Provide the necessary capital to support quality and growth
  • Maintain a meaningful role in local governance of the hospital

The mission of Penn Highlands Healthcare is to provide exceptional care through its community-based health system while maintaining a reverence for life.  “That mission is an outstanding fit for our organization,” said Price.  “J. C. Blair has always been committed to providing the highest standard of care for the residents of our local communities.  Penn Highlands Healthcare’s culture matches our culture.”

“An affiliation with Penn Highlands Healthcare will allow a greater opportunity for J. C. Blair to continue to grow and remain a leader in the provision of health care services as well as maintain its role as a major employer in this region,” added Joe Myers, Interim President/CEO of J. C. Blair Health System.

According to Ron King, Chairman of the Penn Highlands Healthcare Board, “The affiliation of     J. C. Blair will expand the geographic footprint of the Penn Highlands Healthcare system while strengthening its ability to recruit providers and expand upon many of its specialty services. We are excited to have J. C. Blair join our health system as our fifth acute care facility.”

“We are thrilled to be working toward a partnership with J. C. Blair,” said Steve Fontaine, CEO of Penn Highlands Healthcare.  “As with all of our affiliated hospitals, we know J. C. Blair will be successful at sharing our vision to be the integrated health system of choice through excellent quality, service and outcomes.”

The signing of the letter of intent means that J. C. Blair Health System and Penn Highlands Healthcare have agreed to general terms and conditions of a prospective affiliation.  Throughout the next several months, both parties will engage in additional due diligence, research and discussions to work toward a definitive agreement. This process is subject to customary regulatory review.

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About JC Blair Health System


J.C. Blair Health System is the healthcare leader in Huntingdon County, serving the community’s healthcare needs and striving to deliver the best outcome for every patient for over 100 years. The Health System includes J.C. Blair Memorial Hospital, a 62-bed, non-profit community hospital; J.C. Blair Medical Services which employs specialty physicians, physician assistants, and nurse practitioners; and J.C. Blair Memorial Hospital Foundation. With an active medical staff of nearly 40 physicians, over 400 employees, and more than 40 active volunteers, J.C. Blair is the only hospital in rural Huntingdon County, serving over 45,000 permanent county residents.  Its key service lines include a newly renovated and expanded emergency department, an urgent care center, a heart catheterization lab, orthopedics, surgical services, gastroenterology, and integrated behavioral health services, as well as an intensive care unit, medical/surgical unit, full service medical laboratory with several outlying lab locations, cardiopulmonary and radiology departments, and a wound healing center. For more information, visit J.C. Blair’s website at


About Penn Highlands Healthcare

Penn Highlands Healthcare was officially formed on September 30, 2011, and is comprised of four hospitals – Penn Highlands Brookville, Penn Highlands Clearfield, Penn Highlands DuBois and Penn Highlands Elk that have served area communities for the past 100 years. Its business continuum also includes a home care agency, Penn Highlands Community Nurses; a long-term care facility, Pinecrest Manor; and a senior residential living facility, Elco Glen.

Through this partnership, Penn Highlands Healthcare has evolved into an organization with approximately 3,582 workers in 100+ locations throughout 12 counties in North Central/Western Pennsylvania that include community medical buildings, outpatient facilities, surgery centers and physician practices.

Providing exceptional quality care to the region, it has 341 physicians and 126 advanced practice providers on staff. The facilities have a total of 484 inpatient beds. The system offers a wide-range of care and treatments with specialty units that care for cancer, cardiovascular/thoracic, lung, neonatal and high-risk pregnancy patients.

Being focused on what is important – patients and families – makes Penn Highlands Healthcare the best choice in the region. For more information, visit

Evaluating the Bundled Payment for Care Improvement (BPCI) Initiative

Evaluating the Bundled Payment for Care Improvement (BPCI) Initiative.  CMS released the fifth evaluation report for the BPCI Initiative, which tests whether linking payments for all providers that furnish Medicare-covered services during an episode of care related to an inpatient hospitalization can reduce expenditures while maintaining or improving quality of care.  For Model 2, the most comprehensive model, 8 percent of hospitals initiating episodes were in rural areas.  Rural participants reported challenges with scarcity of potential partners (e.g., primary care physicians, specialists, and community services); lack of knowledge of programs such as BPCI among providers; and limited internal staffing resources.  However, they also reported that being a rural provider did not affect their ability to collaborate with post-acute care providers because they had developed relationships or collaborative efforts prior to BPCI.  The Innovation Center also announced participants to the new BPCI-Advanced Model.

Addressing Rural Social Isolation as a Health and Mortality Risk Factor

Addressing Rural Social Isolation as a Health and Mortality Risk FactorSocial isolation is increasingly recognized as an important determinant of health, especially in the context of an increase in “deaths of despair,” which have had a disproportionate impact on rural residents.  This brief from the University of Minnesota Rural Health Research Center describes the prevalence of social isolation in rural areas and identifies challenges and strategies to policy-making.

USDA Launches Interactive Data Tool to Address Opioid Crisis

USDA Launches Interactive Data Tool to Address Opioid Crisis.  The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Development launched a new tool to “help leaders, researchers and policymakers assess what actions will be most effective in addressing the opioid crisis at the local level.”  Developed in partnership with the Walsh Center for Rural Health Analysis at NORC at the University of Chicago, the tool allows users to overlay substance misuse data against socioeconomic, Census, and other public education data.  Earlier this year, NORC partnered with the Appalachian Regional Commission to develop a similar tool mapping overdoses for that region.

HHS awards $2.34 billion in grants to help Americans access HIV/AIDS care and medication

From the Office of the Regional Director

Matt Baker


Delaware | District of Columbia | Maryland  | Pennsylvania | Virginia | West Virginia

On October 11, 2018, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced that approximately $2.34 billion in Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program grants were awarded to cities, counties, states, and local community-based organizations in fiscal year (FY) 2018. This funding through the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) supports a comprehensive system of HIV primary medical care, medication, and essential support services to more than half a million people living with HIV in the United States.

“New medical advances and broader access to treatment have helped transform HIV/AIDS from a likely death sentence into a manageable chronic disease,” said HHS Secretary Alex Azar. “The Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program is an important way to ensure that these life-saving treatments reach the Americans who need them, and the Trump Administration is committed to continuing to improve the care by Americans living with HIV/AIDS receive.”

“The Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program plays a vital role in the United States’ public health response to ending the HIV epidemic,” said HRSA Administrator George Sigounas, M.S., Ph.D. “These grants will help ensure that the most vulnerable Americans living with HIV/AIDS have access to life-saving care and treatment needed to improve their health quality and medical outcomes.”

HRSA oversees the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program, which is a patient-centered system that provides care and treatment services to low income people living with HIV to improve health outcomes and reduce HIV transmission among hard to reach populations. The program serves approximately 50 percent of people living with diagnosed HIV infection in the United States. In 2016, approximately 85 percent of Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program clients who received HIV medical care were virally suppressed, up from 69 percent in 2010.

To learn more, visit:

If you have any questions, please contact me at 215-861-4648 or at

USDA Launches Interactive Data Tool to Help Rural Communities Address the Opioid Crisis

New Community Assessment Tool Empowers Rural Leaders to Make Data-Driven Decisions to Build Resilient Communities

WASHINGTON, Oct. 4, 2018 – Assistant to the Secretary for Rural Development Anne Hazlett today announced the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has launched an interactive data tool to help community leaders build grassroots strategies to address the opioid epidemic.

“Under the leadership of President Trump, USDA is committed to being a strong partner to rural America in addressing this monumental challenge,” Hazlett said. “Local leaders in small towns across our country need access to user-friendly and relevant data to help them build grassroots solutions for prevention, treatment and recovery.”

The opioid misuse Community Assessment Tool enables users to overlay substance misuse data against socioeconomic, census and other public information. This data will help leaders, researchers and policymakers assess what actions will be most effective in addressing the opioid crisis at the local level.

The Community Assessment Tool is free and available to the public. It can be accessed on USDA’s Rural Opioid Misuse Webpage or at

USDA’s launch of the Community Assessment Tool closely follows President Trump’s declaration of October as National Substance Abuse Prevention Month. Approximately 72,000 Americans died from drug overdoses in 2017; 49,000 of those deaths involved an opioid. Many of these deaths have been fueled by the misuse of prescription pain medications. The severity of the current opioid misuse crisis requires immediate action.

Rural Development partnered with the Walsh Center for Rural Health Analysis at NORC at the University of Chicago to create the Community Assessment Tool. NORC at the University of Chicago is a non-partisan research institution that delivers reliable data and rigorous analysis to guide critical programmatic, business and policy decisions. Today, government, corporate and nonprofit organizations around the world partner with NORC to transform increasingly complex information into useful knowledge. The Walsh Center focuses on a wide array of issues affecting rural providers and residents, including health care quality and public health systems.

In April 2017, President Donald J. Trump established the Interagency Task Force on Agriculture and Rural Prosperity to identify legislative, regulatory and policy changes that could promote agriculture and prosperity in rural communities. In January 2018, Secretary Perdue presented the Task Force’s findings to President Trump. These findings included 31 recommendations to align the federal government with state, local and tribal governments to take advantage of opportunities that exist in rural America. Increasing investments in rural infrastructure is a key recommendation of the task force.

To view the report in its entirety, please view the Report to the President of the United States from the Task Force on Agriculture and Rural Prosperity (PDF, 5.4 MB). In addition, to view the categories of the recommendations, please view the Rural Prosperity infographic (PDF, 190 KB).

USDA Rural Development provides loans and grants to help expand economic opportunities and create jobs in rural areas. This assistance supports infrastructure improvements; business development; housing; community facilities such as schools, public safety and health care; and high-speed internet access in rural areas. For more information, visit

National Rural Health Association Details Regulatory and Legislative Action In New Report

The National Rural Health Association’s (NRHA) Government Affairs team’s first annual Government Affairs Update details the key regulatory and legislative wins achieved by NRHA members and staff in the most recent fiscal year. The report also looks forward to FY19 to examine our future goals. Following the midterm elections, we must work to educate newly elected officials unfamiliar with rural health issues, and we must ensure that long-serving members of Congress continue their commitment. The one-page version of NRHA’s report is a great way to present NRHA’s goals to your representatives in a concise manner.