Rural Health Information Hub Latest News

HPSA Preview Shows Decline in Pennsylvania

The first preview of the Health Professional Shortage Area (HPSA) National Shortage Designation Update does not bode well for Pennsylvania compared to the rest of the United States. Percentages were given for maintaining, increasing or decreasing competitiveness for National Health Service Corps scholars and loan repayment. The state and national percentage of organizations whose scores increased in competitiveness were about the same (PA = 8%, National = 7%). Nationally, 63 percent of organizations were projected to have no change while in Pennsylvania the number is 32 percent. So, the bad news is that 64 percent of organizations in Pennsylvania are projected to see scores fall out of the competitive range.

Words Matter: “Illegal Alien” Versus “Undocumented Noncitizen”

The Biden administration is ordering U.S. immigration enforcement agencies to change how they talk about immigrants. The terms “illegal alien” and “assimilation” are out — replaced by “undocumented noncitizen” and “integration.” The new guidance is laid out in a pair of detailed memos sent Monday by the heads of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Border Protection, part of a broader effort by the Biden administration to roll back the previous administration’s hardline policies and build what they call a more “humane” immigration system.

President Signs Bill Fixing RHC Payment

As anticipated, on April 14, President Biden signed H.R. 1868 into law, fixing many of the issues with the rural health clinic (RHC) payment modernization law enacted in December. The legislation also retroactively extends the suspension of the two percent across-the-board Medicare sequestration through the end of 2021. Since April 1, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) had been holding claims pending passage of this legislation, and CMS is expected to lift this hold imminently. Read more.

New Leadership at Pennsylvania Medicaid Agency Announced

My name is Meg Snead, and I am excited and honored to now serve as Acting Secretary for the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services (DHS). I come to DHS after serving as Governor Wolf’s Secretary of Policy and Planning, but I am not new to the human services world or DHS specifically. Prior to joining the Governor’s Office, I started my commonwealth service in DHS’ policy office working on Medicaid, mental health, and substance use policy. Prior to moving home to Pennsylvania, I spent 12 years working in the nonprofit industry in Colorado on affordable housing, homelessness services, and health care policy.

I’m very excited to be back in the agency environment, and it’s an incredible privilege to be back and leading an agency for which I care so deeply. I consider myself an advocate at heart, and the work done at DHS allows me to advocate for Pennsylvanians every day, be it through direct aid and assistance or through the quality of services and care we expect in programs and facilities we oversee. Millions of people across Pennsylvania turn to DHS through difficult times or rely on our programs or services.

I’m coming into this role at an important time for Pennsylvania and for the goals DHS has worked towards since Governor Wolf took office. This is a time to fortify the work and accomplishments of the last six years so this work can continue well beyond the Governor’s tenure. Pennsylvania’s recovery from this pandemic is something that DHS will play an active role in, and I am to use this time to help the people we serve in a way that can put them on a long-term path to better health, economic stability, and an overall improved quality of life.

Additional funding from the American Rescue Plan Act presents a number of opportunities to help continue  collective recovery from this pandemic. Over the coming months DHS will provide hundreds of millions of dollars directly for people who are struggling to pay rent or utilities as a result of the pandemic. The Rescue Act also gives us the incredible opportunity to extend the Medicaid coverage period for new moms – something that can help us fight maternal mortality rates that disproportionately affect lower income women and women of color. And DHS will be able to continue support for essential industries that have been so challenged by this pandemic.

As our state and country begins to overcome this pandemic and help Pennsylvania emerge from the economic hardships, DHS will play a critical role in helping steer a recovery that prioritizes vulnerable individuals and families and affords the affiliated providers with the ability to emerge stronger. I know that I am assuming this role through a difficult period, but this has done incredible work in the last year to respond to the everchanging needs of this pandemic.

Joining me at DHS will be Andrew Barnes, who assumes the role of Executive Deputy Secretary. Andrew has been serving as the Executive Deputy Secretary in the Governor’s Policy Office since I assumed the role in 2019. Andrew comes to the position with more than 15 years of experience in the commonwealth. He previously worked in the Office of the Victim Advocate overseeing victim services and working to ensure victims’ rights are upheld and recognized through the justice process. Andrew also led policy and legislative affairs work in the Department of Corrections, working internally and in collaboration with other agencies and governing bodies to advance Pennsylvania’s justice system.

I’d like to thank Teresa Miller and Clarke Madden for their service to DHS and the commonwealth. They’ve done amazing work leading this agency over the last few years, and I’m excited to build on their success and continue working to help Pennsylvanians lead healthier, more enriching lives.

Food Access and Insecurity During COVID-19

Recognizing the problem and taking action

By: Amit Sharma, Ph.D. & Kimberly Impellitteri

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted our lives in ways beyond what we could have imagined. The disruption of essential elements of life, such as food, water, money, and housing, has been devastating to families and communities, particularly those most vulnerable. While some of the impact on the unavailability of food, for instance, has been due to the pandemic, the inequalities that preexisted the crisis have persisted. Consequently, not everyone has been impacted equally by the inaccessibility of food; yet those who never imagined they would be impacted have found themselves food insecure.

Our research team has been investigating the issues surrounding food access and insecurity locally and globally through our international research task force . The research team also includes an enthusiastic group of undergraduate and graduate students at Penn State, whose efforts have been nothing short of an inspiration. These efforts have morphed into research, outreach, and educational activities reflecting on the complex perspectives overlapping the food insecurity phenomenon. Understanding these perspectives can be critical to eventually address the food insecurity challenge that so many of our communities face around the globe, and in our own neighborhoods.

Read more on the Insights from Experts Blog

$29 Million in Federal Grants Available for Rural Workforce Projects

The U.S. Department of Labor announced a third round of funding for the Workforce Opportunity for Rural Communities (WORC) initiative for $29.2 million, with awards ranging from $150,000 to $1.5 million. Last year, 14 projects in the Appalachian region received more than $14.5 million.

Managed by the U.S. Department of Labor, WORC provides enhanced training and support activities to dislocated workers, new entrants in the workforce, incumbent workers, and individuals affected by substance use disorder who are returning to work in the Appalachian and Delta regions. The goal of WORC is to improve access to jobs in high-demand occupations, as well as help communities and workers plan for, and recover from, economic transitions. Successful WORC projects draw on long-term economic growth strategies, building on bottom-up, community-led plans maximizing economic resilience and regional strengths.

Learn how to apply for a WORC Initiative grant. For assistance preparing your application, check out WORC’s technical assistance pre-application workshops below.

Monday, May 17: Nuts and Bolts of the WORC Initiative
Tuesday, May 18: Managing the Grant Writing Process
Wednesday, May 19: Demonstrating Need and Strategic Alignment
Thursday, May 20: The SF-424, 424-A, and the Budget Narrative
Friday, May 21: Outputs, Outcomes, Impact, and Sustainability

Register by Friday, May 14, 2021.

New Report Outlines Federal Resources for Coal-Impacted Communities

The White House Interagency Working Group on Coal and Power Plant Communities and Economic Revitalization delivered a report  to President Biden with their initial recommendations  to catalyze economic development and create good-paying jobs in hard-hit energy communities across the country. ARC ‘s participation in this working group enabled the organization to provide a voice for Appalachia and strengthen partnerships with other federal agencies to maximize the resources available to coal-impacted communities.

The report identified an array of existing federal funding opportunities that could be accessed by energy communities to support community revitalization efforts. ARC’s POWER (Partnerships for Opportunity and Workforce and Economic Revitalization) Initiative, which targets federal resources to help communities affected by job losses in coal mining, coal power plant operations, and coal-related supply chain industries, is highlighted in the report. POWER has invested $238 million in 293 projects touching 353 coal-impacted communities since 2015.

The report also identifies 25 specific communities that are most directly impacted by changes in the energy economy—eight of those are in Appalachia, covering 84 counties. The Appalachian communities on this list are:

  • Southern West Virginia non-metropolitan area
  • East Kentucky non-metropolitan area
  • Wheeling, West Virginia -Ohio
  • Southwest Virginia non-metropolitan area
  • Northern West Virginia non-metropolitan area
  • Beckley, West Virginia
  • Charleston, West Virginia
  • Western Pennsylvania non-metropolitan area

This ranking helps identify areas that are most vulnerable to additional near-term coal mine and power plant closures.

Access the report and fact sheet to learn more. For more background on the economic impact of energy transitions, access ARC’s report An Overview of Coal and the Economy in Appalachia.

Pennsylvania Losing Congressional Seat Explained in New Brief

Pennsylvania is set to lose one U.S. House seat as its population growth lags behind some other states, the Census Bureau announced this week.

The change comes due to apportionment after the 2020 Census. Raeven Chandler,  director of the Pennsylvania Population Network (PPN) and assistant research professor of rural sociology at Penn State, recently published a new brief discussing apportionment and why it matters for Pennsylvania.

The PPN is part of the Population Research Institute at Penn State and was established with funding from a Penn State Strategic Initiative Seed Grant and the Social Science Research Institute.

A Message from FEMA on COVID-19 Funeral Assistance

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought overwhelming grief to many families. At FEMA, our mission is to help people before, during and after disasters. We are dedicated to helping ease some of the financial stress and burden caused by the virus.

Under the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2021 and the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, FEMA will provide financial assistance for COVID-19-related funeral expenses incurred after January 20, 2020.

COVID-19 Funeral Assistance Line Number

Applications accepted as of April 12, 2021
844-684-6333 | TTY: 800-462-7585

Hours of Operation:
Monday – Friday
9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Eastern Time

Call this dedicated toll-free phone number to get a COVID-19 Funeral Assistance application completed with help from FEMA’s representatives. Multilingual services will be available.

CMS Proposes to Enhance the Medical Workforce in Rural and Underserved Communities to Support COVID-19 Recovery and Beyond

Proposed rule would require hospitals to report vaccination rates among health care staff

On April 27, CMS issued a proposed rule (CMS-1752-P) for inpatient and long-term care hospitals that builds on the Biden Administration’s key priorities to close health care equity gaps and provide greater accessibility to care. Major provisions in the proposed rule would fund medical residency positions in hospitals in rural and underserved communities to address workforce shortages and require hospitals to report COVID-19 vaccination rates among their workers to contain the spread of the virus.

CMS recognizes the importance of encouraging more health professionals to work in rural hospitals and underserved areas and the need to retain and train high-quality physicians to help address access to health care in these communities. In accordance with the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021, CMS is proposing to distribute 1,000 additional physician residency slots to qualifying hospitals, phasing in 200 slots per year over five years. CMS estimates that the additional funding for these additional residency slots, once fully phased in, will total approximately $0.3 billion each year to fund medical residency positions in hospitals to address the workforce shortages.

“Hospitals are often the backbone of rural communities – but the COVID-19 pandemic has hit rural hospitals hard, and too many are struggling to stay afloat,” said HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra. “This rule will give hospitals more relief and additional tools to care for COVID-19 patients, and it will also bolster the health care workforce in rural and underserved communities. The Biden Administration is committed to expanding health equity in communities across the country, especially in rural America.”

Consistent with President Biden’s Executive Order 13985 on Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities Through the Federal Government, CMS is also committed to addressing significant and persistent inequities in health outcomes in the U.S. through improving data collection to better measure and analyze disparities across programs and policies. In this proposed rule, CMS is soliciting feedback on opportunities to leverage diverse sets of data (race, Medicare/Medicaid dual eligible status, disability status, LGTBQ+, socioeconomic status, etc.) and new methodological approaches to advance equity through the quality measurement and value-based purchasing programs.

The rule also proposes to implement section 9831 of the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 to permanently reinstate the imputed floor-wage-index for all-urban States for FY 2022.

Additionally, the rule proposes to update Medicare Fee-for-Service payment rates and policies for acute care inpatient hospitals and long-term care hospitals for fiscal year 2022. CMS estimates total Medicare spending on acute care inpatient hospital services will increase by about $2.5 billion in fiscal year 2022.

Strengthening COVID-19 Ongoing Response

In November 2020, CMS established the New COVID-19 Treatments Add-on Payment (NCTAP) to mitigate any potential financial disincentives for hospitals to provide new COVID-19 treatments during the Public Health Emergency (PHE). The proposed rule would extend the NCTAP for certain eligible technologies through the end of the fiscal year in which the PHE ends.

In addition, the proposed rule seeks to strengthen the ongoing response to the PHE and future health threats by leveraging meaningful measures for quality programs. CMS is proposing the adoption of the COVID-19 Vaccination Coverage among Healthcare Personnel (HCP) Measure to require hospitals to report COVID-19 vaccinations of workers in their facilities. This proposed measure is designed to assess whether hospitals are taking steps to limit the spread of COVID-19 among their workforce, reduce the risk of transmission within their facilities, help sustain the ability of hospitals to continue serving their communities through the PHE, and assess the nation’s long-term recovery and readiness efforts.

Additionally, CMS is proposing to modify the Promoting Interoperability program requirements for eligible hospitals and critical access hospitals to expand reporting within the Public Health and Clinical Data Exchange Objective. The proposal would require hospitals to report on all four of the following measures: Syndromic Surveillance Reporting, Immunization Registry Reporting, Electronic Case Reporting, and Electronic Reportable Laboratory Result Reporting.

Requiring hospitals to report these four measures would help to prepare public health agencies to respond to future health threats and a long-term COVID-19 recovery by strengthening public health functions, including early warning surveillance, case surveillance, and vaccine uptake, which will increase the information available to help hospitals better serve their patients. Requiring these measures would enable nationwide syndromic surveillance for early warning of emerging outbreaks and threats; automated case and laboratory reporting for rapid public health response; and local and national visibility on immunization uptake so public health can tailor vaccine distribution strategies.

More Information: