Rural Health Information Hub Latest News

Pennsylvania Proposes New Rules on Professional Licensure Process for People with Criminal Backgrounds

State regulators are seeking to clarify the professional licensing process for people with criminal backgrounds as part of a larger effort to improve career opportunities for ex-convicts. The proposed rules, scheduled for publication this weekend in the Pennsylvania Bulletin, carry out provisions of a state law passed in 2020. Taken together, the rules would provide greater transparency and clarity to the process, giving applicants a better idea of what past crimes disqualify them for licensure and how they could make their case, according to the Department of State, which oversees professional licensing in Pennsylvania.

Electronic Results Now Available for FBI Criminal History Clearance

The Department of Human Services (DHS), General Services (DGS), and the Pennsylvania State Police announced that Pennsylvanians obtaining a Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Criminal History Clearance will receive their results electronically if the clearance does not indicate a criminal history. Under Pennsylvania’s Child Protective Services Law, certain professions, volunteers, and prospective foster or adoptive parents are required to obtain clearances in order to work or volunteer with children. Three clearances are required under state law: Pennsylvania Child Abuse History Clearance, Pennsylvania State Police Criminal History Clearance, and the FBI Criminal History Clearance. Fingerprints are required to complete the FBI clearance and typically are delivered via mail or directly to the ordering agency. Now, when applicants apply to get fingerprinted through IDEMIA, also known as IdentoGo or MorphoTrust, results will be provided via a secure account. All applicants will still receive a copy of their clearances by mail.

Learn About the Public Health Emergency Unwinding and Some Helpful Resources

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act of 2020 provided states with additional funding for Medicaid allowing states to keep consumers continuously enrolled through the end of the Public Health Emergency (PHE). In Pennsylvania, Medicaid enrollment has increased by almost 21 percent since March 2020. The Federal Government has committed to giving states a 60-day notice prior to ending the PHE. To date, that notice has not been received. DHS has also provided that the unwinding period following the end of the PHE has been extended from 6 months to a full year. It is anticipated the PHE will be renewed again in January 2023. To help prepare healthcare providers, enrollment assisters, and Medicaid consumers, representatives from the DHS Office of Incomes Maintenance, Medical Assistance Programs, the Office of Long-Term Living and Pennie have provided information on strategies to prepare for the end of the PHE.  DHS has also recorded Medical Assistance and Long-Term Care Renewal Refresher Training. All three are available on DHS’s PHE Website.

Republicans Narrowly Capture House, Democrats Hold Senate

A newly divided Congress gives lawmakers in the narrow House GOP majority leeway to block legislation and launch a battery of investigations. House Republicans will also control a key lever in the process for crafting the federal budget and hold crucial leverage in spending fights with the Biden administration. The narrow House majority will present a difficult situation for party leadership, as the speaker will have to keep practicing the entire conference together on key votes. An unexpected death or resignation could fundamentally alter the chamber’s balance of power.

Control of Pennsylvania House of Representatives Swings to Democrats

More than a week after Election Day, final results show that Democrats have won control of the Pennsylvania state House for the first time in more than a decade. Three of the General Assembly’s caucuses – Senate GOP and Democrats and the House Democrats – announced their leadership teams for the 2022-23 legislative session on Tuesday. The House Democratic Caucus unanimously re-elected its current leadership team to serve in the 2023-24 legislative session: Rep. Joanna E. McClinton, D- Phila/Delaware, Democratic Leader; Rep. Jordan Harris, D-Phila, Democratic Whip; Rep. Matt Bradford, D-Montgomery, Democratic Chairman, House Appropriations Committee; Rep. Ryan Bizzarro, D-Erie, Chairman, House Democratic Policy Committee; Rep. Tina Davis, D-Bucks, -Democratic Caucus Secretary; Rep. Mike Schlossberg, D-Lehigh, Democratic Caucus Administrator; Rep. Dan Miller, D-Allegheny, Democratic Caucus Chairman. There will be a significant turnover of committee chairs and the impact remains to be seen. Committee chairs play a vital role in the legislative process, and they bring to the job their own styles, policy positions and decisions on whether to move or bottle up bills. On the Senate side, Sen. Kim Ward, R-Westmoreland, was elected Senate President Pro Tem, becoming the first woman in the state’s history to hold the top spot in the chamber. With Ward’s move, and the departure of Senate Appropriations Committee chair Pat Browne, R-Lehigh, the Senate GOP leadership team was the only one with substantial changes. Sen. Joe Pittman, R-Indiana, will succeed Ward as Senate Majority Leader, while Sen. Scott Martin, R-Lancaster, will replace Browne as chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Pennsylvania Broadband Development Authority Announces Partnership with Penn State Extension to Expand Access to High-Speed Internet

The Pennsylvania Broadband Development Authority (Authority) Executive Director Brandon Carson announced that the Authority unanimously voted on November 10 to contract with Penn State Extension to develop and update state broadband maps to directly enable the commonwealth to maximize its federal funding allocation for high-speed internet expansion.

“Contracting with Penn State Extension will bring the Pennsylvania Broadband Development Authority one step closer to meeting its mission to expand broadband services to unserved and underserved areas of the commonwealth,” said Carson. “The services Penn State Extension will provide will help to close the digital divide and allow Pennsylvanians to get connected at home, work, or on the road.”

Through this initiative, Penn State Extension plans to develop and update state broadband maps; evaluate the accuracy of industry-provided Federal Communications Commission (FCC) data to inform the commonwealth challenge process; provide geo-analytics, data analysis, and cost estimating for fiber to the premises to support local data-driven decisions about broadband deployment; and promote digital equity in underserved populations through strategic partnerships. The project is expected to run through June 30, 2023.

Brent Hales, Penn State Extension director and associate dean in the College of Agricultural Sciences, noted that Extension enters this initiative following its successful partnership with the state Public Utility Commission to develop the map that helped Pennsylvania receive $368 million from the FCC’s Rural Digital Opportunity Fund, which is expected to enable 327,000 Pennsylvanians to gain access to high-speed internet.

“Our partnership with the PUC has enabled Penn State Extension to better serve the people and the communities of the commonwealth,” Hales said. “We are gratified to support future investment in Pennsylvania’s broadband infrastructure and look forward to facilitating new opportunities for broadband deployment. I also want to recognize the efforts of our team and their tireless efforts and enthusiasm.”

The broadband initiative will focus on providing publicly accessible and open-source data mapping and analysis tools where stakeholders can visually identify unserved broadband areas. Additionally, the maps will make transparent current FCC broadband data, demographics, and infrastructure data to inform the challenge processes for residents of the commonwealth. Determining the correct number of unserved and underserved households in the commonwealth will be critical to determining the state’s portion of the $42.5 billion available under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act for broadband deployment projects through a program called Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD). Rules for the BEAD program call for the funding to be allocated based, in large part, on each state’s percentage of unserved locations, according to updated FCC broadband maps.

Penn State Extension is an educational organization dedicated to delivering science-based information to people, businesses, and communities. Penn State Extension covers 4-H Youth Development; Agronomy and Natural Resources; Animal Systems; Energy, Business, and Community Vitality; Food Safety and Quality; Food, Families, and Health; and Horticulture.

For more information about the Pennsylvania Broadband Development Authority, or the Department of Community and Economic Development, visit the DCED website, and be sure to stay up-to-date with all of our agency news on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

SUN Smiles Program Receives Rural Health Program of the Year Award

Family Health Council of Central Pennsylvania (FHCCP) and the organization’s Women, Infant, and Children (WIC) Tapestry of Health SUN Smiles program received the Rural Health Program of the Year award, presented by the Pennsylvania Office of Rural Health (PORH). The award was presented by Lisa Davis, director and outreach associate professor of health policy and administration at Penn State, on Nov. 17 at a ceremony at the WIC Tapestry of Health clinic in Shamokin Dam, PA.

The Rural Health Program of the Year Award recognizes an exemplary health program that addresses an identified need in a rural community utilizing unique, creative, and innovative approaches to do so.

The award was presented during 2022 Rural Health Week in Pennsylvania, Nov. 14-18. The week encompasses Nov. 17, which is National Rural Health Day, established in 2011 by the National Organization of the State Offices of Rural Health. Both events celebrate “The Power of Rural” by honoring rural American residents, health care providers, and communities.

The nomination, submitted by Karen McCraw, vice president of advocacy and development at Family Health Council of Central Pennsylvania (FHCCP) in Camp Hill, PA, lauded SUN Smiles for developing a comprehensive program that formed partnerships between FHCCP, Central Susquehanna Opportunities, Snyder-Union Community Action Agency, and the Susquehanna River Valley Dental Health Clinic. The program was created to improve oral health outcomes for economically marginalized clients of the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for WIC clients in Snyder, Union, and Northumberland counties.

The goals of SUN Smiles are to reduce the proportion of adults and children with untreated tooth decay; increase the proportion of children, adolescents, and adults who use the oral health care system; increase the proportion of people with dental insurance; and reduce the proportion of persons who are unable to obtain or delay obtaining necessary dental care. The program also aims to reduce the proportion of children ages one to five who report dental problems, reduce oral health disparities among low-income rural clients, and give every adult and child in WIC the chance to have a healthy smile. All pregnant and postpartum women and children who are clients of WIC are routinely screened for dental needs and referred to Community Health Workers (CHW), as needed, for assistance with Medicaid enrollment, appointment scheduling, transportation, payment for services, and more.

In the first 11 months of the program, SUN Smiles screened 2,028 WIC clients and referred 700 clients to CHWs and 400 clients to dental care; 154 program clients received dental services at FHCCP’s partner dental provider site. In addition to care navigation, oral health education and fluoride varnish days at WIC offices are key elements of the program.

PORH was formed in 1991 as a joint partnership between the federal government, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and Penn State. The office is one of 50 state offices of rural health in the nation and is charged with being a source of coordination, technical assistance, networking, and partnership development.

PORH provides expertise in the areas of rural health, population health, quality improvement, oral health, and agricultural health and safety. PORH is administratively located in the Department of Health Policy and Administration in the College of Health and Human Development at Penn State University Park.

Each year, PORH presents awards to recognize rural health programs and individuals who have made substantial contributions to rural health in Pennsylvania. To learn more about the Pennsylvania Office of Rural Health, visit

HRSA Announces New $350 Million Initiative to Increase COVID-19 Vaccinations

HRSA will distribute funding to health centers to support community-based vaccination events and outreach focused on underserved populations

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), through the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), announced a new $350 million initiative for HRSA-supported health centers to increase COVID-19 vaccines in their communities, with a specific focus on underserved populations. This funding will support health centers administering updated COVID-19 vaccines through mobile, drive-up, walk-up, or community-based vaccination events, including working with community-based organizations, and other efforts to increase the administration of COVID-19 vaccines.

“Community health centers save lives,” said HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra. “We will continue to reach, vaccinate, and protect our most vulnerable people across the country working together with community health centers and community-based organizations. We have seen COVID infections increase in prior winters, and it does not have to be that way this year. We now have updated COVID-19 vaccines to protect communities against the Omicron strain. Our message is simple: Don’t wait. Get an updated COVID-19 vaccine this fall. It’s safe and effective.”

“As community-based organizations that have built deep relationships with their patients and neighborhoods, health centers are uniquely positioned to increase COVID-19 vaccinations,” said HRSA Administrator Carole Johnson. “These funds will ensure that people who live in underserved communities have access to updated COVID-19 vaccines this winter through community-based vaccination events hosted by health care providers and organizations they trust.”

The Expanding COVID-19 Vaccination initiative will provide resources directly to health centers throughout the country to increase COVID-19 vaccinations this winter by addressing the unique access barriers experienced by the underserved populations that health centers serve. HRSA anticipates these efforts will also increase flu and childhood vaccinations through combined vaccination events. All HRSA-funded health centers, as well as health center look-alikes that received American Rescue Plan funding, will be eligible. These funds build on the previous investments made to HRSA-funded health centers to combat COVID-19 and will help even more Americans have access to updated COVID-19 vaccines. To date, health centers have administered more than 22 million vaccines in underserved communities across the country, of which 70 percent to patients of racial and ethnic minorities.

To facilitate access to COVID-19 vaccination, the initiative will foster new and strengthened coordination, with community-based organizations that provide childcare, early childhood development, housing, food, employment, education, older adult, or behavioral health services. Health centers will be encouraged to support mobile, drive-up, walk-up, or community-based vaccination events; extend operating hours, outreach, and off-site vaccination locations to expand opportunities for COVID-19 vaccination; and support  access to COVID-19 vaccination by expanding transportation, translation, education, and interpretation services.

The nearly 1,400 HRSA-funded community health centers serve as a national source of primary care in underserved communities, providing services through more than 14,000 sites across the country. They are community-based and patient-directed organizations that deliver affordable, accessible, and high-quality medical, dental, and behavioral health services to more than 30 million patients each year, with specific initiatives intended to reach people experiencing homelessness, agricultural workers, and residents of public housing.

In 2021, HRSA-funded health centers provided care for one-in-five residents in rural areas and one-in-eleven people nationwide. One-in-three health center patients are living in poverty, and nearly two-thirds are racial/ethnic minorities.

Learn more about the Health Center Program:

Read the White House FACT SHEET: Biden Administration Announces Six-Week Campaign to Get More Americans their Updated COVID-⁠19 Vaccine Before End of the Year.

Rural Health System Value-Based Care Innovators Roundtable: Strategies and Insights

 The Rural Health Value team recently released a report that describes interviews with five health systems supporting value-based care in their rural affiliates. Interview topics included organizational structure, governance and decision-making, operations, data and communication, contracts, and social determinants of health. The report includes common health system tensions and opportunities as they facilitate rural affiliate success in value-based care. The Rural Health Value team is funded by the Federal Office of Rural Health Policy.

Mapping COVID-19 Response in Rural Communities.

  A new interactive mapping tool provides rural-specific information on COVID-19 vaccination rates, including newly released data on bivalent boosters, COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, and other health and sociodemographic information at the community level.  The tool was created by the NORC Walsh Center for Rural Health Analysis – with support and data provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – to help decision-making about vaccination efforts and resources.  All data can be downloaded for free; every county also has an individual fact sheet comparing all county-level data to the rest of their state and the nation.