Rural Health Information Hub Latest News

Pennsylvania’s Indiana Regional Medical Center Receives National Accreditation for a Rural Family Medicine Residency Program

A majority of our nation’s healthcare shortage areas are located in rural regions. As most rural citizens know, recruiting physicians to rural communities is challenging. One effective solution to this challenge is to move physician training programs to those rural areas. When physicians train in a rural setting, they become more comfortable with a rural style of practicing medicine. Data indicate that physicians who complete training in rural areas are more likely to remain in those areas to practice. Approximately 50% of resident physicians will stay within a radius of their residency training program.

“There are many people who contributed to this vital project that will help us grow and retain strong physicians for the people we serve,” said Stephen A. Wolfe, President & CEO of Indian Regional Medical Center (IRMS) in Indiana, PA.

IRMC leadership recognized this trend in 2019 and began the process to develop graduate medical education at IRMC. Graduate medical education (GME), also called residency training, is the term used to describe the specialty-specific training that physicians complete after their four years of undergraduate training and their four years of medical school. IRMC chose to start a family medicine residency due to the flexibility and versatility of family physicians who can provide care for patients from newborns to geriatrics, and even obstetric care. At IRMC you can find family physicians in the outpatient setting, the hospitalist service, the ER, and even in the CMO’s office. Due to this versatility, graduates of the Family Medicine Residency Program can help to fill a wide variety of healthcare shortages in our community. Investment in primary care is foundational to providing healthcare with decreased cost and decreased mortality. Each class of resident physicians will have six members who will remain at IRMC for their three-year residency, so at full complement, IRMC will have 18 family medicine residents training. The first six residents should start July 1, 2022.

The national accreditation agency, the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME) requires an accreditation process for the hospital/institution followed by an accreditation process for the residency program itself. It was the second accreditation that was just achieved, and IRMC will now begin a national recruiting process. Graduates from medical schools all over the country, and even the world will apply for the six positions available at IRMC. Interview season will end with a national matching process, and IRMC will find out who will be coming to our program in March of 2022.

Directing the process for accreditation is IRMC’s new Graduate Medical Education Department includes Dr. Richard Neff, our Chief Medical Officer (CMO), who will also act as the Designated Institutional Officer (DIO) for the new residency. The next member of the GME Department is family physician and Program Director, Dr. Amanda Vaglia. Dr. Vaglia who currently practices in Clymer, PA, will maintain some clinical responsibilities as she transitions to additional roles of residency supervision and administration. IRMC’s Sports Medicine Family Physician, Dr. Brian Stone, will serve as the Associate Program Director and Osteopathic Director for the new residency program. The final member of the GME department is Ashley McDonald of Nicktown who will serve as the Program Coordinator for the Family Medicine Residency Program. Ashley comes to IRMC with strong experience in undergraduate medical education at WVU prior to moving to Nicktown.

Due to the broad scope of family medicine, resident physicians will be working and training throughout the IRMC system. The outpatient office for the residency will be located at Mahoning Medical Center in Marion Center. The community board at Mahoning Medical Center has been extremely supportive of IRMC’s residency development, and IRMC is remodeling the upper level of the facility to prepare for the first class of new physicians’ to interview and matriculate. The Residency Director of Prenatal Services, Dr. Julie DeRosa, with the resident physicians, will provide prenatal services at her practice at Mahoning Medical Center, in addition to the full range of family medicine patients, newborn to geriatrics.

While preparing for recruitment season, IRMC has been building stronger relationships with regional medical schools and is hosting medical students for clinical rotations. You may see more of these learners at IRMC as well. Additionally, IRMC has been building on the COVID-times collaboration with colleagues at Indiana University of Pennsylvania (IUP). Due to the need for scholarly activity for the residents, the GME department will be working with Dr. Hilliary Creely and colleagues at the IUP Research Institute.

Collaborations are also developing with the Food and Nutrition Department at IUP led by Dr. Stephanie Taylor-Davis as well as Dr. David LaPorte from IUP’s Psy-D Program. There are even discussions underway to work with IUP’s Theater Department to work with the residents on empathy training.

This residency development process received support from the IRMC Board of Directors early in the process. IRMC leadership and medical staff have enthusiastically supported this effort to supplement and secure the future of the healthcare system here in Indiana and in the surrounding region.

To learn about the program, click here.

US House Passes Build Back Better Act; Fact Sheets Available

On November 19, 2021, the U.S. House of Representatives passed President Biden’s Build Back Better Act, a historic investment in kids and families that will lift people out of poverty, create opportunity, and address systemic inequities that have disproportionately disadvantaged vulnerable communities for far too long. Several fact sheets on the bill are included below, and we would be grateful for any statements of support you or your organization release via your website, social media, or otherwise, which you can send (including links) to

Build Back Better Fact Sheets

USDA Invests More Than $1 Million in Community Infrastructure in Rural Pennsylvania

Projects Include $778,440 in Grants for Community Facility Projects

United State Department of Agriculture (USDA) State Director of Pennsylvania Bob Morgan announced that USDA is investing $1.19 million to build and improve critical community facilities in Pennsylvania.

“When we invest in rural health care services and infrastructure, we invest in the people of rural America,” Morgan said during a tour of the St. Luke’s Carbon Hospital today in Lehighton, Pa.

This community infrastructure funding will benefit approximately 109,000 people in rural Pennsylvania.

The 15 projects range from new law enforcement vehicles to community library renovations. For example:

  • Newport School District will use a $417,900 loan and $44,200 grant to pave and re-line the parking lots in the Newport High School and Newport Elementary School. The parking lots have not been repaved in years and need new lines.
  • The Amelia S. Givin Free Library will use a $14,300 grant to paint the exterior trim of the library and purchase new materials for the library. The exterior has not been painted in 12 years and is in poor condition. New materials such as books, books-on-cd, magazines, CDs and DVDs are needed because their current materials are outdated. The library serves Mount Holly Springs Borough and surrounding communities.
  • The Innes Hose Company in Canton, Pa., will use a $144,500 grant to purchase a Spartan Fire truck and Chevy 3500 Rescue truck which will be outfitted as a brush truck with accessories.

Read all of the Pennsylvania project announcements on our website.

As part of National Rural Health Week, USDA announced investments of $222 million through the Community Facilities Direct Loan and Grant Program across the nation. This funding includes $132 million to support health-care-related improvements, emergency response services and food security. These health-care-related improvements will benefit nearly 850,000 rural residents in 36 states.

As Winter Approaches, Don’t Hesitate to Seek Help for Loved Ones, Yourself through PA Human Services Department

As the days are growing colder and we continue to face the COVID-19 pandemic, it is imperative that each of us looks out for the well-being of our families, as well as ourselves. Every Pennsylvanian deserves a warm, safe home with food on the table.

The Pennsylvania Department of Human Services (DHS) is here to help.

The Wolf Administration offers assistance to every eligible Pennsylvanian if they are having trouble meeting essential needs. Below is a list of some of the available resources offered by the Department of Human Services

Housing and Utilities

  • Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP)
    • Pennsylvania ERAP County Application Finder
      ERAP remains a lifeline for renters of residential properties who are at risk of eviction or utility shutoffs due to hardship caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Landlords can apply for assistance on behalf of tenants and receive rental assistance directly if the tenant is eligible. Pennsylvanians experiencing housing instability or at risk of eviction are strongly urged to begin their ERAP application as soon as possible.
  • Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) 
    • LIHEAP helps families living on low incomes pay their heating bills in the form of a cash grant. Households in immediate danger of being without heat can also qualify for crisis grants. The cash grant is a one-time payment sent directly to the utility company/fuel provider to be credited on your bill. These grants range from $500 to $1,500 based on household size, income, and fuel type. Remember: This is a grant and does not have to be repaid.

Food Assistance

  • Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)
    •  Apply for benefits: SNAP helps Pennsylvanians buy food. People in eligible low-income households can obtain more nutritious diets through SNAP, increasing their food-purchasing power at grocery stores and supermarkets. Those who are eligible receive an Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) ACCESS Card to make food purchases.
  • Find a Meal —Find food pantries near you
  • Special Supplemental Nutrition for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC)
    WIC provides nutrition education, breastfeeding instructions, and counseling at designated clinics. To support healthy eating, participants are given vouchers that they can redeem at grocery stores for specific food items.
  • Senior Food Box Program The Senior Food Box Program works to improve the health of low-income seniors by supplementing their diets with nutritious USDA Foods. In Pennsylvania, eligible participants include low-income individuals who are at least 60 years old and whose household income is at or below 130 percent of the U.S. poverty level.

Mental Health

  • PA Support & Referral Hotline
    • Call: 1-855-284-2494 (TTY: 724-631-5600)
      DHS’ mental health support and referral helpline is available 24/7 and is a free resource staffed by skilled and compassionate caseworkers available to counsel Pennsylvanians struggling with anxiety and other challenging emotions.
  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
    • Call: 800-273-8255 (Español: 888-628-9454)
    • A chat function is also available
      If you or someone you care about is experiencing thoughts of suicide, please call the Lifeline.
  • Crisis Text Line
    • Text “PA” to 741741 to start the conversation 24/7.
  • PA Crisis Hotlines

Family Assistance

  • KinConnector 
    • Connect with free resources: 1-800-490-8505
    • Find available family services by county
      PA KinConnector provides resources, information, support and education (RISE) for kinship caregivers — including grandparents, aunts or uncles, siblings, cousins, or non-blood “relatives” — who take on the traditional parenting responsibilities when biological parents cannot.
  • Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) Also referred to as cash assistance, TANF provides cash assistance to pregnant women and dependent children and their parents or relatives who live with and care for them.

Substance Use

  • Get Help Now Helpline
    • Call: 1-800-662-HELP (4357)
      A toll-free helpline maintained through the Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs (DDAP) that connects callers looking for treatment options for themselves or a loved one to resources in their community. Calls are anonymous and available 24/7.
  • Find Treatment Near You
  • Naloxone Standing Order   Naloxone is still available to all Pennsylvanians through a standing order signed by Acting Physician General Dr. Denise Johnson. Carrying naloxone on-hand at all times can be a life-saving action.

Victim’s Assistance

Pennsylvania Statewide Health Assessment Released

The Pennsylvania Department of Health, Public Health Management Corporation, the Healthy Pennsylvania Partnership, and Bloom Planning have released the 2020 Pennsylvania State Health Assessment: The State of Our Health: A Statewide Health Assessment of Pennsylvania.

The state health assessment was completed between January and December 2020 and focuses on eight priority areas. The report explores the many ways Pennsylvanians have been impacted by social determinants of health and health inequities, as well as by COVID-19. The report highlights assets that can be utilized to improve health and identifies cross-cutting needs, like addressing access, prevention, and racism. This work aims to educate and mobilize communities to develop priorities, leverage resources, and plan actions to improve population health.

President Joe Biden Issues Proclamation for National Rural Health Day, November 18

America’s rural communities feed and fuel our country, steward our precious lands, and are home to 1 out of every 5 Americans. As we continue to fight the COVID-19 pandemic and make the investments we need to build back better, we must ensure that our recovery includes and strengthens our Nation’s rural communities. On National Rural Health Day, we recommit to supporting the health and well-being of rural Americans and celebrate the rural health care providers who work tirelessly to meet their needs.

Rural Americans face unique challenges accessing the care they need and deserve. They often have to travel greater distances to see a health care provider, are less likely to have access to broadband to utilize telehealth services, and are more likely to live in an area that has a shortage of doctors, dentists, and mental health providers. While the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has spared no part of the country, rural areas have confronted additional challenges that affect the delivery of services, including limited health care infrastructure and fewer clinicians.

My Administration is committed to improving the health of rural communities and ensuring that those who call these communities home have equitable access to the resources and services routinely available to people living in more densely populated areas. That is why my American Rescue Plan (ARP) is providing $8.5 billion to rural health providers to keep their doors open and continue responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. This builds on over $820 million in ARP spending from earlier this year to support COVID-19 testing and mitigation across 4,200 Rural Health Clinics and over 1,500 small rural hospitals and $100 million in ARP funding to support the vaccine outreach efforts of Rural Health Clinics. My Administration’s plan also provided $500 million to create the Emergency Rural Health Care Grant Program, which is helping rural communities provide more COVID-19 testing and treatment, purchase medical supplies, deliver food assistance, and renovate health care facilities. These investments are complemented by funds to expand telehealth and support training for new rural health care providers, including community health workers and respiratory therapists. This funding has supported thousands of Rural Health Clinics, small rural hospitals, and community health workers.

My Administration’s Build Back Better framework will build on the successes of the ARP by delivering lower cost, higher quality health care to rural Americans. My Administration’s proposal is the biggest expansion of affordable health care in a decade and will lower prescription drug and other health care costs for rural Americans, keep rural hospitals open, and work to address the root causes of poor health, including outdated drinking water infrastructure across rural America. Additionally, my Administration is coordinating efforts across Federal, State, Tribal, territorial, and local governments and incorporating health equity principles, policies, and approaches in our efforts to better support rural communities. This means supporting rural hospitals and clinics, expanding telehealth and workforce development, improving community health, and providing greater access to capital so that every American can receive lower cost and higher quality health care.

On National Rural Health Day, we recognize the importance of the health and well-being of our rural communities. As our Nation builds back better, we recommit to supporting our rural health care providers and working together to bring about a stronger, healthier rural America.

NOW, THERFORE, I, JOSEPH R. BIDEN JR., President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim November 18, 2021, as National Rural Health Day. I call upon the people of the United States to reaffirm our dedication to the health and well-being of rural America.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this seventeenth day of November, in the year of our Lord two thousand twenty-one, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and forty-sixth.

How Rural Communities Are Losing Their Pharmacies

Batson’s Drug Store seems like a throwback to a simpler time. The independently owned pharmacy in Howard, Kansas, still runs an old-fashioned soda counter and hand-dips ice cream. But the drugstore, the only one in the entire county, teeters on the edge between nostalgia and extinction.

Julie Perkins, pharmacist and owner of Batson’s, graduated from the local high school and returned after pharmacy school to buy the drugstore more than two decades ago. She and her husband bought the grocery store next door in 2006 to help diversify revenue and put the pharmacy on firmer footing.

But with the pandemic exacerbating the competitive pressures from large retail chains, which can operate at lower prices, and from pharmaceutical intermediaries, which can impose high fees retroactively, Perkins wonders how long her business can remain viable.

She worries about what will happen to her customers if she can’t keep the pharmacy running. Elk County, with a population of 2,500, has no hospital and only a couple of doctors, so residents must travel more than an hour to Wichita for anything beyond primary care.

“That’s why I hang on,” Perkins said. “These people have relied on the store from way before I was even here.”

Corner pharmacies, once widespread in large cities and rural hamlets alike, are disappearing from many areas of the country, leaving an estimated 41 million Americans in what are known as drugstore deserts, without easy access to pharmacies. An analysis by GoodRx, an online drug price comparison tool, found that 12% of Americans have to drive more than 15 minutes to reach the closest pharmacy or don’t have enough pharmacies nearby to meet demand. That includes majorities of people in more than 40% of counties.

From 2003 to 2018, 1,231 of the nation’s 7,624 independent rural pharmacies closed, according to the University of Iowa’s Rural Policy Research Institute, leaving 630 communities with no independent or chain retail drugstore.

Read more.

COVID-19 Medicaid and CHIP Data Snapshot through May 2021

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) is highlighting the impacts of the COVID-19 public health emergency (PHE) on families and individuals enrolled in Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) through the COVID-19 data snapshot release.

The snapshot includes data from March 2020 through May 2021 for reproductive health services; services delivered via telehealth; service use among beneficiaries who are 18 years of age and under; services for mental health; substance use disorders (SUD); and COVID-19 testing, treatment, and care services.

Many Medicaid and CHIP services have returned to pre-pandemic levels. but there are still services needed to make up for those missed during the COVID-19 PHE. CMS continues to partner with states to monitor data to ensure families and individuals have the access they need to critical health care services such as perinatal, mental health, and pediatric services.

To view the Medicaid and CHIP Data Snapshot, please visit

Changes to Nursing Home Visitation COVID-19 (Revised) and COVID-19 Survey Activities

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) is continuing to promote health and safety and address the impacts of the COVID-19 public health emergency (PHE) on nursing home residents and their families by issuing memos that revise guidance for nursing home visitation and address the backlog of complaint and recertification surveys.

The first memo, Nursing Home Visitation – COVID-19 (Revised), issues revised visitation guidance in nursing homes. Together with infection prevention safeguards, including the recent staff vaccination regulation, this guidance will promote resident health and ensure continued safety as facilities continue to open. Early in the pandemic, visitation restrictions were implemented to mitigate the risk of visitors introducing COVID-19 to the nursing home. Today’s guidance update reflects that, while visitors, residents, or their representatives should be made aware of the risks associated with visiting loved ones, visitation should now be allowed for all residents at all times. CMS has consistently updated its visitation guidance through the COVID-19 PHE, and this update represents our most comprehensive action to bring residents and loved ones closer together. CMS continues to strongly encourage that everyone get vaccinated against COVID-19.

The second memo, Changes to COVID-19 Survey Activities, includes steps to assist State Survey Agencies (SAs) to address the backlog of facility complaint and recertification surveys. This backlog was the result of the temporary suspension and reprioritization of survey activity nationwide in the early days of the pandemic as CMS and states focused their efforts on infection prevention and control and controlling the spread of COVID-19. In recent months, states have made strong concerted efforts to resume recertification surveys, and we want that to continue.

Steps to assist SAs include:

  • Revising the criteria for conducting COVID-19 Focused Infection Control (FIC) Surveys;
  • Guidance for resuming recertification surveys; and
  • Temporary guidance and minor flexibilities related to complaint investigations.

In addition, CMS is increasing oversight in nursing homes to provide a more focused review of quality-of-life and quality-of-care concerns. For example, the memorandum instructs surveyors to specifically review and focus additional attention to the competency of nursing staff, the use of any potentially inappropriate antipsychotic medications, and other areas of care, such as unplanned weight loss, loss of function/mobility, depression, abuse/neglect, or pressure ulcers.

To view the Nursing Home Visitation COVID-19 (Revised) memo, please visit:

To view the Changes to COVID-19 Survey Activities and Increased Oversight in Nursing Homes memo, please visit: