Rural Health Information Hub Latest News

Pennsylvania Prison Suicides are at an All-time High. Families Blame “Reprehensible” Mental Health Care

NIOSH News Flash! COVID-19 Update

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is closely monitoring an outbreak of respiratory illness caused by a novel (new) coronavirus. Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) was first detected in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China and continues to spread in China. COVID-19 illnesses are being reported in a growing number of international locations. This is an emerging, rapidly evolving situation and CDC will provide updated information as it becomes available on the CDC COVID-19 website.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) recently released a webpage to highlight resources available for the protection of workers: This page provides a centralized resource for new guidance and recommendations produced during CDC’s COVID-19 response, as well as pre-existing resources and materials, to promote the safety and health of workers.

National Health Service Corps Loan Repayment Programs: The application cycle is open!

National Health Service Corps
Loan Repayment Programs

The application cycle is open!

Accepting applications through
Thursday, April 23, 7:30 p.m. ET

The National Health Service Corps (NHSC) opened its application for three loan repayment programs: the NHSC Loan Repayment Program, the NHSC Substance Use Disorder Workforce Loan Repayment Program and the NHSC Rural Community Loan Repayment Program.

Find which one is right for you:NHSC All Loan Repayment Programs ComparisonVisit the NHSC website to review the Application and Program Guidance (APG) documents and learn more about eligibility and specific disciplines. Each program has a different APG with the detailed information you need to apply, including eligibility requirements, site information, documentation, and service requirements. Read the APG carefully before you start your application.

Apply Here!

Get Connected with Mental Health & Substance Use Resources in Pennsylvania

The Pennsylvania Department of Human Services has released resources for those experience mental health and substance use issues in Pennsylvania.  See below for information and links.

Suicide Prevention

Suicide claims the lives of over 2,000 Pennsylvanians each year, according to the latest CDC statistics. At the time of their deaths, the majority of people who die by suicide have a diagnosable and treatable mental illness. Medication and therapy can be very effective in treating depression.

Visit Prevent Suicide PA’s website to take a screening to see if you are at risk, learn warning signs, and find out how you can help.  If you’re thinking about suicide or worried about a friend or loved one, call the National Suicide Prevention Line 1-800-273-8255.

Mental Health Crisis Intervention 

Mental Health Crisis Intervention Services provides emergency mental health services 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and are accessible to any individual in the community who may need such resources. All individuals in Pennsylvania may utilize the public behavioral health system during a crisis situation regardless of socio-economic status, health insurance coverage, or history of established connections to the behavioral health service delivery system.

Crisis Intervention Services may include: 24/7 telephone crisis service, walk-in crisis service, mobile crisis service, medical-mobile crisis service, and crisis residential service. Crisis services are to provide intervention, assessment, counseling, screening, and disposition. Contact a Mental Health Crisis Intervention Service.

Get Help Now

The Pennsylvania Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs has resources available 24/7 for those in need. If you need assistance in finding a treatment provider or funding for addiction treatment, please call 1-800-662-HELP (4357) or contact your county drug and alcohol office by using the county services provider searchIf someone has taken drugs and becomes unresponsive, call 911 immediately. 


The online DART Tool helps people identify drug and alcohol services and supports for themselves or a loved one based on your responses to questions. The DART tool provides resources based on a person’s age, county of residence, and veteran status. A list of resources is also provided if a person is experiencing homelessness, has issues with transportation to treatment or has legal concerns, as well as programs that may be available depending on a person’s income. The tool does not evaluate eligibility for resources provided but refers users to how they can obtain information or assess their eligibility.

Trump’s Medicaid Chief Labels Medicaid ‘Mediocre.’ Is It?

Kaiser Health News, February 21, 2020

The Trump administration’s top Medicaid official has been increasingly critical of the entitlement program she has overseen for three years.

Seema Verma, administrator of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, has warned that the federal government and states need to better control spending and improve care to the 70 million people on Medicaid, the state-federal health insurance program for the low-income population. She supports changes to Medicaid that would give states the option to receive capped annual federal funding for some enrollees instead of open-ended payouts based on enrollment and health costs. This would be a departure from how the program has operated since it began in 1965.

In an early February speech to the American Medical Association, Verma noted how changes are needed because Medicaid is one of the top two biggest expenses for states, and its costs are expected to increase 500% by 2050.

“Yet, for all that spending, health outcomes today on Medicaid are mediocre and many patients have difficulty accessing care,” she said.

Verma’s sharp comments got us wondering if Medicaid recipients were as bad off as she said. So we asked CMS what evidence it has to back up her views.

A CMS spokesperson responded by pointing us to a CMS fact sheet comparing the health status of people on Medicaid to people with private insurance and Medicare. The fact sheet, among other things, showed 43% of Medicaid enrollees report their health as excellent or very good compared with 71% of people with private insurance, 14% on Medicare and 58% who were uninsured.

The spokesperson also pointed to a 2017 report by the Medicaid and CHIP Payment and Access Commission (MACPAC), a congressional advisory board, that noted: “Medicaid enrollees have more difficulty than low-income privately insured individuals in finding a doctor who accepts their insurance and making an appointment; Medicaid enrollees also have more difficulty finding a specialist physician who will treat them.”

KHN opted to look at those issues separately.

Click here for more.

PA Senator Bob Casey Examines Ways to Strengthen Community Supports for Seniors and People with Disabilities Living in Rural Areas

Washington, D.C. – On February 12, 2020, U.S. Senator Bob Casey (D-PA), Ranking Member of the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging, held a hearing entitled, “There’s No Place Like Home: Home Health Care in Rural America.” During the hearing, Senator Casey highlighted his bill, the Home and Community-Based Services (HCBS) Infrastructure Improvement Act, which would invest in community supports for older adults and people with disabilities in rural areas through increased Medicaid funding for states.

“In Pennsylvania, there are more than 13,000 older adults and people with disabilities waiting for home care and support services. My bill, the Home and Community-Based Services Infrastructure Improvement Act, aims to change that–to make home-based care and services a reality for all who need it. An investment in home health care is an investment in the future of rural America. It is an investment in access to care, an investment in the direct support workforce and an investment in the economy,” said Senator Casey.

Senator Casey invited Francis Adams, a home care worker from Washington, PA, to testify about the barriers to improving home care jobs. “We can’t truly improve the long-term care that seniors and people with disabilities rely on unless we tackle the major obstacles that are holding working people back, including low wages, lack of benefits and basic worker protections and inadequate training,” said Mr. Adams. “It isn’t that we don’t have enough people to do this work that creates a workforce shortage, it is that our country, as a whole, undervalues this work and so nobody wants to fill the positions. We have to fix this. We have to invest in long-term care for all and we have to finally respect the work home care workers do.”

 Read more about the HCBS Infrastructure Improvement Act here.

2020’s Healthiest & Unhealthiest Cities in America – WalletHub Study

With health care costs rising and U.S. life expectancy declining for three consecutive years, the personal-finance website WalletHub today released its report on 2020’s Healthiest & Unhealthiest Cities in America as well as accompanying videos.

To identify the places where health is a priority, WalletHub compared more than 170 of the largest U.S. cities across 43 key metrics. The data set ranges from cost of medical visit to fruit and vegetable consumption to fitness clubs per capita.

Healthiest Cities

Unhealthiest Cities

1. San Francisco, CA 165. Detroit, MI
2. Seattle, WA 166. Fort Smith, AR
3. San Diego, CA 167. Augusta, GA
4. Portland, OR 168. Huntington, WV
5. Washington, DC 169. Montgomery, AL
6. New York, NY 170. Memphis, TN
7. Denver, CO 171. Shreveport, LA
8. Irvine, CA 172. Gulfport, MS
9. Scottsdale, AZ 173. Laredo, TX
10. Chicago, IL 174. Brownsville, TX

Key Stats

  • Overland Park, Kansas, has the lowest share of physically unhealthy adults, 7.60 percent, which is 2.5 times lower than in Detroit, the city with the highest at 19.20 percent.
  • Laredo, Texas, has the lowest cost per doctor’s visit, $58.33, which is 3.3 times less expensive than in Boston, the city with the highest at $191.62.
  • Portland, Maine, has the lowest share of adults eating fruit less than once daily, 28.20 percent, which is 1.8 times lower than in Gulfport, Mississippi, the city with the highest at 51.80 percent.
  • Amarillo, Texas, has the lowest average monthly cost for a fitness-club membership, $10.17, which is 8.1 times less expensive than in San Francisco, the city with the highest at $82.83.

To view the full report and your city’s rank, please visit:

Pennsylvania Department of Health Releases 2020-2023 Strategic Plan

The Pennsylvania Department of Health has released it’s 2020-2023 Strategic Plan.  A tremendous effort went into creating this strategic plan, from community partners and employee surveys to workshops, interviews, and data analysis. This plan is the Department’s roadmap for pursuing the greatest public health challenges faced by Pennsylvanians and illustrates their commitment to health equity, collaboration, continuous quality improvement and evidence-based decision making. The Department will build upon the great work already being done to promote healthy behaviors, prevent injury and disease, and to assure the safe delivery of quality health care for all people in Pennsylvania.

This plan sets the course to achieve five overarching strategies that we will work toward accomplishing over the next three years:

  1. Maintain and enhance emergency services and public health preparedness
  2. Continually develop our talents to significantly advance public health in PA
  3. Promote public health with awareness, prevention, and improvement of outcomes where the need is greatest
  4. Use data, measures, and technology to enable public health performance
  5. Improve staff, customer and partner experience with consistent, efficient and effective services and work processes

Exploring Alternative Payment Models for Oral Health Care

In January 2020, the DentaQuest Partnership published an article in Decisions in Dentistry that evaluated Medicaid claims of alternative payment models (APMs) and fee for service (FFS).  Key takeaways from the their study demonstrated that:

  • In 2016, the Center for Health Care Strategies noted “states may be able to use their purchasing power to encourage better access, quality and accountability in oral health care for children in Medicaid — particularly through contracting with dental plans.”
  • This analysis of a national sample of Medicaid dental claims found an approximate 6% increase (from 27% to 33%) in dental claims associated with APMs from 2013 to 2017.
  • The costs over the lifespan for APMs were lower than traditional FFS models, while utilization was better in the APM plans.
  • Dental utilization in this sampling was highest during pediatric care and sharply declines within the 20s, before remaining low for the rest of the lifespan.

Exploring Alternative Payment Models for Oral Health Care