Rural Health Information Hub Latest News

Pennsylvania House of Representatives Approves Bill Establishing COVID-19 At-Home Testing Distribution Program

The Pennsylvania House of Representatives unanimously approved a legislative amendment that would create a $10 million program to assist counties that want to distribute at-home COVID-19 tests. The amendment was added to HB 2033, that extends reporting requirements for state labs that conduct COVID-19 tests. The amended bill still must make its way through the Senate before it can reach the desk of Gov. Tom Wolf. According to the amendment, the Pennsylvania Department of Health would buy the test kits. Counties would then have 30 days to apply by stating how many tests they need and detailing how they plan to distribute them.

Pennsylvania Senate Sends Governor Bill to Create Broadband Authority

The Pennsylvania Senate voted unanimously in support of House Bill 2071, legislation that would create a statewide broadband authority to oversee the state’s strategy for spending federal dollars to close the digital divide. The bill creates the Pennsylvania Broadband Development Authority, which will be a one stop shop to oversee and support broadband deployment. The authority will manage at least $100 million in federal aid that Pennsylvania will receive to support a coordinated and strategic rollout of broadband to more areas with construction of new towers, lines and broadband equipment and other uses. Governor Wolf is expected to sign the bill into law.

USDA Rural Development: The Future Is Bright for Rural Pennsylvania

By Bob Morgan
USDA Rural Development State Director in Pennsylvania

If the past few weeks are any indication of things to come, Pennsylvania has found a partner that sees the value of investing in our rural communities. This partner may be from an agency that not many Americans might expect, the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

When Americans hear USDA, they usually think of food and farming. However, USDA is made up of 29 agencies with nearly 100,000 employees, who serve at more than 4,500 locations across the country and abroad. The Rural Development mission at USDA administers more than 50 economic development programs and investments in Pennsylvania have been steadily increasing in 2021 under the agency’s Build Back Better initiative.

Over the last four fiscal years USDA Rural Development has invested more than $3.5 billion in rural Pennsylvania through its loan and grant programs helping to expand economic opportunities and create jobs in rural areas by supporting: infrastructure improvements; business development; housing; community facilities such as schools, public safety, and health care; and high-speed internet access.

For example, on Dec. 16, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced a $5.2 billion investment in rural America’s critical infrastructure. This good news included grants and loans for Pennsylvania, in the amount of $11.3 million for three water and waste disposal projects in Tioga, Westmoreland, and Venango Counties. These projects will improve communities by providing new pipes for water systems and necessary upgrades for waste water treatment. Since 2018, USDA has invested more than $211 million through these Rural Development programs.

The Biden-Harris administration has made infrastructure and critical agriculture supply chain investments a priority. Recently Secretary Vilsack announced the deployment of $100 million under a new Food Supply Chain Guaranteed Loan Program. This initiative funded through the American Rescue Plan Act, will provide loan guarantees to spur private investment in processing and food supply infrastructure that strengthens the food supply chain.

This is on top of a $500 million investment to expand meat and poultry processing capacity, which is vital to Pennsylvania producers. The Department will soon publish details on the new program and how to apply as part of USDA’s Build Back Better Initiative, a comprehensive plan to invest $4 billion to strengthen the resiliency of America’s food supply chain while promoting competition.

USDA also supports local efforts to adapt to our changing climate as evidenced this month during Secretary Vilsack’s visit to Saubel’s Market in York County. During his visit to the family-owned store in Shrewsbury, Pa., the Secretary announced $1 million to reduce the impacts of climate change on rural communities in Pennsylvania through the Rural Energy for America Program or REAP. Saubel’s Market received a $102,413 USDA REAP grant. With this funding, the small business installed solar panels on the roof of their family-owned grocery store a project which is expected to save enough energy to power 36 homes annually. Twenty-one other farms and businesses in Pennsylvania recently received REAP awards. Over the last four years Rural Development’s REAP and other energy efficiency progams distributed more than $9.7 million for 140 projects.

Moving from energy savings to saving lives, in healthcare, in 2018, there were 66 acute care hospitals with roughly 7,200 beds available in rural areas of the commonwealth, according to data compiled by the Center for Rural Pennsylvania. Seven counties did not have hospitals. On average, there were 2.14 hospital beds for every 1,000 rural residents. Rural Development has been determined to combat this problem.

St. Luke’s Carbon Campus Hospital opened its doors in November 2021. The 160,000-square-foot facility with 80 patient rooms is redefining health care access, convenience, and quality for the local community. This state of the art facility allows patients to experience their entire health care journey from primary to specialized care in a single location.

The trauma-4 rated hospital will also create new jobs and allow for recruitment of physicians from across the country. The project was funded in 2019 and consisted of a $98,500,000 Community Facilities Direct Loan which will be repaid by the borrower.

In 2020, Rural Development invested in the construction of a 240-bed three-story skilled nursing facility in Centre County (Centre Care, Incorporated) that serves a significant portion of the Medicaid population in the area. Also, Rural Development funded a new, 123-unit assisted living facility in Bucks County (LifeQuest). Since 2018, the Rural Development Community Facilities program has administered more than $293 million in health care loans within Pennsylvania.

USDA Rural Development is firmly committed to fulfilling the promise of improving opportunity for rural communities through the agency’s Build Back Better initiative, and we look forward to making further investments in Pennsylvania in 2022.

Guidance for the Interim Final Rule – Medicare and Medicaid Programs; Omnibus COVID-19 Health Care Staff Vaccination

Today, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) released guidance on the Omnibus COVID-19 Health Care Staff Vaccination Interim Final Rule that was published on November 5, 2021. The emergency regulation helps safeguard health care workers and the people they serve from COVID-19 and its variants for all individuals seeking care by imposing requirements regarding vaccinations for eligible staff at health care facilities participating in the Medicare and Medicaid programs. This guidance provides important information on implementation, as well as guidelines to assess and maintain compliance with the COVID-19 vaccination requirements for health care workers at facilities participating in the Medicare and Medicaid programs.

A link to today’s guidance may be found here:

CMS also updated its Current Emergencies Page with corresponding FAQs and infographics. These items can be found under the “Clinical and Technical Guidance for All Health Care Providers” using the following link: