Rural Health Information Hub Latest News

New Statewide Public/Private Partnership – The Kares Community Engages Seniors Through Virtual Gaming & Esports

Social isolation and loneliness among older adults is one of the most serious health issues facing our country today.  Combatting that problem is the goal of a new public-private partnership – the K.A.R.E.S. Community (Keystone Athletics, Recreation and Esports) – which will use virtual technology to bring Pennsylvania seniors together for Esports and electronic gaming fun.

KARES’ partners include its founder, health technology and innovation consultancy, EnableHealth; the PA Esports Coalition; Pittsburgh’s Jewish Healthcare Foundation; Geisinger Musculoskeletal Institute; Athletes for Care; RTI International; the KNGDM Group; the PA Office of Rural Health and the Keystone State Games, among others. The partnership is looking to pilot its first virtual activities at the next Keystone Games, re-scheduled now for October 2020.

Partnership leaders note that during the COVID-19 pandemic, it is nearly impossible for seniors, especially in rural areas, to congregate.  Technology and virtual gatherings, however, have made it possible for older adults to remain engaged and maintain social connections.  The objectives of this initiative are to leverage technology to enable seniors to participate virtually in friendly competitive sports and games in a fun and healthy environment.

About 28 percent of older adults in the United States, or 13.8 million people, live alone, and in a 2018 survey of 20,000 participants conducted by Cigna, nearly half (46%) of those surveyed reported that they felt alone sometimes or always.  Perhaps no other age group feels the keen sting of loneliness more than seniors — a condition only exacerbated by COVID-19.  The National Institutes of Health (NIH) agrees, adding that loneliness can also have clinical consequences.  Research has linked social isolation and loneliness to higher risks for a variety of physical and mental conditions: high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, a weakened immune system, anxiety, depression, cognitive decline, Alzheimer’s disease, and even death.

Conversely, according to the NIH, people who engage in meaningful, productive activities with others tend to live longer, boost their mood, and have a sense of purpose. These activities seem to help maintain their well-being and may improve cognitive function.

The Initiative is currently identifying potential projects and partners from across PA, and has the support of the Pennsylvania Department of Aging, which recently published the results of a statewide survey. The survey was conducted by the Pennsylvania Council on Aging and sought to assess how older adults have been managing through the current pandemic.  The survey reported that more than 25% of the 3,700 respondents said they would like to take advantage of virtual gaming if given the opportunity.

“Older Pennsylvanians enjoy sports, games and other ways to socialize and congregate for fun and fitness,” said Pennsylvania Secretary of Aging, Robert Torres, “I applaud the work of KARES, which seeks to safely and positively engage our senior community through the pioneering application of Esports and virtual gaming.  I’m particularly encouraged by thier initial project which seeks to expand recreational opportunities for older adults through a partnership with the Keystone State Senior Games.”

Founded in 1983, the non-profit Keystone State Games, Inc. is a public/private partnership that has attracted over 500,000 participants of various age groups to their events, which provide a statewide, multi-sport program with an Olympic format to encourage and assist in preparing Pennsylvania’s athletes to enter national and international competitions.

“The Keystone Games are excited to be the first in the country to introduce a virtual element to senior games,” said longtime Executive Director, Jim Costello.  “We will be looking to begin gradually by introducing a handful of online games for participants in our upcoming Fall Games and Expo, and then look to launch our first-ever virtual Winter Games in 2021, leveraging several Esports applications.” Concluding, Costello added “and it’s fitting we launch this new initiative in May, which is National Physical Fitness and Sports Month!”

“The Pennsylvania Esports Coalition is also excited to work with the other partners on this initiative to bring the inherently social nature of Esports to a demographic that will no doubt benefit from the entertainment and technology the industry brings,” said Bill Thomas, Chairman of the Coalition. “The current COVID-19 pandemic has shown that we need to do a better job of addressing isolation in our older adult population, and we believe strongly that Esports and competitive video gaming can be a significant part of the solution.”

The Jewish Healthcare Foundation, a nearly 30-year-old organization based in Pittsburgh, has been committed to reducing isolation and loneliness among seniors since its founding. Over the last several years, it has focused on the application of technology to increase connection and engagement among older adults in Western Pennsylvania. “We have always been committed to keeping seniors safe and well and this includes keeping them engaged and connected with their communities,” said Mara Leff, Director of Innovation at the Jewish Healthcare Foundation.  “We think Esports is a fantastic outlet to foster this type of connection, and we are thrilled to be partnering to make it a reality.”

Geisinger has a long history of supporting the Keystone Games,” said Dr. Michael Suk, head of orthopedics at Geisinger and a clinical leader in Esports.  “This year we’re excited to help the games make the transition to a virtual environment, including the introduction of an online platform for health & fitness, a first for senior games in the country.”

RTI International is thrilled to partner with KARES to offer its researchers and expertise to help combat senior isolation in new and effective, innovative ways,” said Jamie Pina, PhD, MSPH, Director, Applied Health Informatics Program.

“We commend Mark Stevens and his team at EnableHealth for bringing instrumental partners together to find creative solutions to address the health and fitness needs of seniors in these unprecedented times. Our team of more than 200 elite athletes are honored to be part of this important initiative,” said Anna Valent, Executive Director, Athletes for CARE.

EnableHealth is proud to bring such an amazing group of individuals and organizations together for such timely and important work,” said EnableHealth Managing Director, Mark Stevens.  “We’re grateful to Secretary Torres for his vision and support, and to Jim Costello for allowing us to make history while launching the Initiative’s first project together at this year’s Keystone games!”

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About EnableHealth

EnableHealth is a global professional services firm whose vision and mission are to create and sustain an innovative global healthcare ecosystem by accelerating the growth of transformative healthcare initiatives worldwide and enabling entrepreneurs to more quickly and effectively bring to market disruptive health technologies and business process solutions which increase quality while lowering costs.  For more information, please visit

About the Pennsylvania Esports Coalition

The Pennsylvania Esports Coalition is a non-profit 501(c)(6) organization created to advance the development, growth and integrity of Esports in Pennsylvania through advocacy, education and promotion of the industry.  The Coalition is comprised of stakeholders from all aspects of the Esports industry, including technology, entertainment, education, athletic, casino gaming and government sectors.  For more information, please visit

About the Jewish Healthcare Foundation

The Jewish Healthcare Foundation is an activist and grant-making foundation with three operating arms: the Pittsburgh Regional Health Initiative (PRHI), Health Careers Futures (HCF), and the Women’s Health Activist Movement Global (WHAMglobal).  It offers a unique brand of activist philanthropy to advance healthcare innovation, advocacy, collaboration, and education in the interest of better population health.  For more information, please visit

About Athletes for CARE

Athletes for CARE (A4C) is a 501c3 nonprofit organization launched in 2016 by passionate professional athletes who recognized the need to advocate for the health, safety and wellness of the more than 2 billion people of all ages who compete annually in sanctioned sports globally.  Through that advocacy, we are improving health and wellness options for the billions of people around the world living with mental and physical illnesses including chronic pain, depression, anxiety, PTSD, CTE, TBI, substance abuse and opioid dependency. For more information, please visit

About RTI International

RTI International is an independent, nonprofit research institute dedicated to improving the human condition. Our vision is to address the world’s most critical problems with science-based solutions in pursuit of a better future. Clients rely on us to answer questions that demand an objective and multidisciplinary approach—one that integrates expertise across the social and laboratory sciences, engineering, and international development.  For more information, please visit

About KNGDM Group

Using the power of perspective, purpose, and passion for uplifting communities, our mission is to build a network of investors, supporters, developers, and influencers that care about social justice.  Founded by NFL veteran, Derrick Morgan, KNGDM Impact Fund exists to amplify individual disconnected efforts into a collective vehicle at-scale, creating more opportunities to improve economic conditions of the disadvantaged.  For more information, please visit

About the Pennsylvania Office of Rural Health

The Pennsylvania Office of Rural Health (PORH) is one of the 50 state offices of rural health. PORH is a partnership between the United States Federal Government, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and the Pennsylvania State University. PORH is charged with being a source of coordination, technical assistance, and networking; partnership development; and assisting in the recruitment and retention of health care providers.  For more information, please visit

About the Keystone Games

The mission of the Keystone State Games is to promote physical fitness, sports activity, and sportsmanship as a health improvement and disease prevention strategy for all Pennsylvanians and other participants and to create an expanded, coordinated and citizen-sponsored program of amateur athletic competition.  For more information, please visit

About the K.A.R.E.S. Community

The K.A.R.E.S. Community is a national online network of members of all ages that communicate and participate with one another in a variety of social and recreational activities.  The mission of K.A.R.E.S. is to help individuals, especially seniors, stay connected while combatting isolation during times of social distancing.  The K.A.R.E.S. Community’s focus is on the whole individual’s wellness – physical, mental, emotional and social.  Members will have the opportunity to participate in a variety of activities online, as well as in person, once social distancing guidelines are lessened. The key to the K.A.R.E.S Community is that we will never be apart again.  We are in this together, and together we will stay active, stay healthy, and stay connected!  For more information, please visit

For more information, contact Mark Stevens at or 484-653-8571.

FDA and USDA Release Recommendations for those in the Food and Agriculture Sector Experiencing Shortages of PPE

These recommendations cover issues involving “shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE), cloth face coverings, disinfectants, and sanitation supplies in the food and agriculture industry during the COVID-19 pandemic.”  This also provides guidance on how to source “supplies, including through private sector suppliers and state emergency management agencies.”  In addition, these recommendations provide insight on what “Food and Agriculture stakeholders should provide when ordering or requesting these supplies.”

See the release here

Business Loan Program Temporary Changes; Paycheck Protection Program – Requirements – Loan Forgiveness

On April 2, 2020, the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) posted an interim final rule announcing the implementation of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act). The CARES Act temporarily adds a new program, titled the “Paycheck Protection Program,” to the SBA’s 7(a) Loan Program. The CARES Act also provides for forgiveness of up to the full principal amount of qualifying loans guaranteed under the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). The PPP is intended to provide economic relief to small businesses nationwide adversely impacted by the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19). SBA posted additional interim final rules on April 3, 2020, April 14, 2020, April 24, 2020, April 28, 2020, April 30, 2020, May 5, 2020, May 8, 2020, May 13, 2020, May 14, 2020, May 18, 2020, and May 20, 2020, and the Department of the Treasury (Treasury) posted an additional interim final rule on April 27, 2020. This interim final rule supplements the previously posted interim final rules in order to help PPP borrowers prepare and submit loan forgiveness applications as provided for in the CARES Act, help PPP lenders who will be making the loan forgiveness decisions, inform borrowers and lenders of SBA’s process for reviewing PPP loan applications and loan forgiveness applications, and requests public comment.

Read the requirements for the Loan Forgiveness Program:  IFR Forgivenss FINAL

Providers Must Act by June 3, 2020 to Receive Additional Relief Fund General Distribution Payment

May 20, 2020

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is reminding eligible providers that they have until June 3, 2020, to accept the Terms and Conditions and submit their revenue information to support receiving an additional payment from the Provider Relief Fund $50 billion General Distribution. All providers who automatically received an additional General Distribution payment prior to 5:00 pm, Friday, April 24th, must provide HHS with an accounting of their annual revenues by submitting tax forms or financial statements. These providers must also agree to the program Terms and Conditions if they wish to keep the funds. Providers who have cases pending before the department for adjudication with regard to eligibility for general distribution funding will not be impacted by this closure. All cases needing individual adjudication will need to be received by HHS no later than June 3, 2020.

The submission of tax forms or financial statements to the portal will also serve as an application for additional funding for those providers that have not already received an additional General Distribution payment. If these providers do not submit their revenue information by June 3, they will no longer be eligible to receive potential additional funding from the $50 billion General Distribution.

President Trump is providing support to healthcare providers fighting the COVID-19 pandemic through the bipartisan CARES Act and the Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act, which provide $175 billion in relief funds to hospitals and other healthcare providers, including those on the front lines of the coronavirus response. This funding supports healthcare-related expenses or lost revenue attributable to COVID-19 and ensures uninsured Americans can get treatment for COVID-19.

HHS previously announced $50 billion of the Provider Relief Fund was allocated for general distribution to facilities and providers that bill Medicare and were impacted by COVID-19, based on eligible providers’ net patient revenue. To expedite providers getting money as quickly as possible, HHS distributed $30 billion immediately, proportionate to providers’ share of Medicare fee-for-service reimbursements in 2019. Then, beginning on April 24, HHS began distributing an additional $20 billion to providers based on their share of net patient revenue, and began accepting submissions from eligible providers of their financial data. Providers have 45 days from the date they received a payment to attest and accept the Terms and Conditions or return the funds. Providers that do not log into the provider portal and accept the Terms and Conditions after 45 days of receipt will be deemed to have accepted the Terms and Conditions.

Other allocations have included $12 billion for hospitals in COVID-19 high-impact areas, $10 billion for rural providers, and $400 million for tribal healthcare providers. Some providers may receive further, separate funding, including skilled nursing facilities, dentists, and providers that solely take Medicaid. A portion of the Provider Relief Fund is being used to reimburse healthcare providers, generally at Medicare rates, for COVID-related treatment of the uninsured.

Visit for more information.

Pennsylvania EMS Conference Update

The annual Pennsylvania EMS Conference, now in its 42nd year, is widely known as a reliable source of high-quality EMS continuing education.  The event is relied on by hundreds of EMS providers to satisfy certification requirements and to ensure that they remain on the cutting edge of prehospital emergency medicine.

The current COVID-19 pandemic has stressed the emergency services community in ways most never could have predicted, affecting nearly every facet of the industry.  Not insignificant is the cancellation or rescheduling of numerous conferences and other educational opportunities.  Current social distancing guidelines, travel restrictions, and uncertain timelines have made planning a large, in-person event challenging at best.  As coordinators of the PA EMS Conference, the team at PEHSC has made the decision deviate from the traditional conference and transition the event to a virtual format.  This change will guarantee that the event will be able to occur, proving an opportunity for the EMS community to receive the valuable education that is so desperately needed.

The conference is still expected to take place on September 2-4, 2020, now from the comfort of your own homes!  Coordinators are working on an exciting lineup of speakers and other options that will offer attendees the ultimate convenience in choosing their sessions and viewing them either live, as they occur, or via a recording at a later date.

The coordinators are excited by the possibilities that this new format will provide and cannot wait to share more details as they are finalized!

Should you have any additional questions or comments, please email or call PEHSC at 717-795-0740

Please remember to follow the PA EMS Conference on Facebook or Instagram for all of the latest updates and announcements!

Rural Health and Safety Education Competitive Grants Program (RHSE)

The Rural Health and Safety Education Competitive Grants Program (RHSE) program supports quality of life in rural communities across the United States by addressing the relationship between rural prosperity and rural health; and safety in the context of food, agriculture, natural resources, and human sciences. RHSE program proposals are expected to be community-based outreach education programs, such as those conducted through Human Science extension outreach that provide individuals and families with:

  • Information as to the value of good health at any age
  • Information to increase individual or family’s motivation to take more responsibility for their own health
  • Information regarding rural environmental health issues that directly impact human health
  • Information about and access to health promotion and educational activities
  • Training for volunteers and health services providers concerning health promotion and health care services for individuals and families in cooperation with state, local, and community partners.

For more information, read the RHSE funding opportunity.

COVID-19 In Appalachia

Explore County-level Coronavirus Impact Planning is a searchable data base offering demographic data snapshots of confirmed COVID-19 cases and deaths in relation to hospital bed counts, population and businesses, and categories of people at risk for COVID-19 in each one of the nation’s counties. By hovering over each statistical icon, users can learn more about the supporting data. COVID-19 related data is updated daily.

The COVID-19 Cases in Appalachia map displays the current number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Appalachia and throughout the United States. Higher numbers of cases are marked by larger dots, while smaller numbers of confirmed cases are represented by smaller dots. By clicking on a location, users can see confirmed COVID-19 cases and any related deaths at the county level. This map is automatically updated throughout the day drawing on data collected by the Johns Hopkins University. Due to frequent changes, it is advised that users refresh their browsers often when viewing the map. As of today, May 21st, at 11:30 am (ET), there were nearly 48,000 cases in 412 Appalachian counties