Rural Health Information Hub Latest News

Now Live! The Integrative Behavioral Health Program Website

One in four individuals will experience mental illness in their lifetime. The Integrative Behavioral Health (IBH) Program confronts behavioral health needs head-on by helping hospitals and communities coordinate behavioral health care in a way that makes sense for individual rural communities. Addressing behavioral health as part of whole person care is vital to achieving the vision for health care transformation.

Continue reading “Now Live! The Integrative Behavioral Health Program Website”

Trump Administration announces State Relief and Empowerment Waivers to give states flexibility to lower health insurance premiums and increase choices

From the Office of the Regional Director

Matt Baker


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

Dear Partners,

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and the U.S. Department of the Treasury (collectively, the Departments) have released new guidance related to section 1332 of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA). This action is being taken so states can increase choice and competition within their insurance market while protecting people with pre-existing conditions.

The new guidance gives states more flexibility to address problems caused by the PPACA and to give Americans more options to get health coverage that better meets their needs. Under this new policy, states will be able to pursue waivers to improve their individual insurance markets, increase affordable coverage options for their residents, and ensure that people with pre-existing conditions are protected. These waivers are now called State Relief and Empowerment Waivers to reflect this new direction and opportunity.

The guidance issued today is intended to loosen excessive restrictions that limit state flexibility and consumer choice while maintaining the requirements of the statute, and provide flexibility for states to meet the state legislative authority requirement. States are required under the statute to enact a law providing for implementation of the Waiver. The guidance clarifies that in certain circumstances, existing state legislation that provides statutory authority to enforce PPACA provisions and the state waiver plan, combined with a duly-enacted state regulation or executive order, may satisfy the requirement that the state enact a law.

The Departments urge states to consider this new guidance as an opportunity to develop strategies that best suit their individual needs. Through innovative actions, tailored to specific state circumstances, states can lower premiums for consumers, improve markets, and increase consumer choice. The Departments are committed to empowering states to innovate in ways that will strengthen their health insurance markets and meet the unique needs of every state.

To view the CMS press release, please visit the CMS Newsroom here.

To view the guidance, please visit this link.

To view the CMS 1332 fact sheet, please visit here.

To view CMS’ “Dear Governor” letter, visit here.

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

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.