Rural Health Information Hub Latest News

National Slavery & Human Trafficking Prevention Month

January is National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month, and the National Human Trafficking Training and Technical Assistance Center (NHTTAC) is offering free training about trafficking as well as offer resources, and information about COVID-19 in the field on their website. They also offer SOAR Online – a series of on-demand continuing education/continuing medical education training modules that you can complete in your own time. They discuss the SOAR framework, how to apply it to identify individuals who are at risk of, currently experiencing, or who have experienced trafficking and connect them with the resources they need. Access the full CE/CME information and start your online training.

Vaccine Hesitancy in Rural America

A new Kaiser Family Foundation analysis of COVID-19 Vaccine Monitor survey data finds that residents of rural America are among the most hesitant populations to get a COVID-19 vaccine, which could pose a significant challenge for the nation’s mass vaccination effort. The analysis shows 35 percent of people living in rural areas say they probably or definitely would not get a COVID-19 vaccine that had been deemed safe and effective and was available for free, compared to 27 percent of suburban and 26 percent of urban residents who say the same. Read the full analysis.

New CDC Funding Flowing to States for COVID-19 Fight

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will be providing more than $22 billion in funding to states, localities, and territories in support of the nation’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, as directed by the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act passed last month. Funding will support expanded COVID-19 testing, contact tracing, surveillance, containment, and mitigation to monitor and suppress the spread of COVID-19 as well as vaccination activities. Pennsylvania (minus Philadelphia) is slated to receive $101,363,520.

Hearing Explores Challenges of COVID-19 Vaccine Delivery in Rural PA

Pennsylvania is scheduled to receive $100 million for COVID-19 vaccine distribution under the second federal relief package. The funding will be used to open mass vaccine clinics, hire companies to deliver the vaccines, and develop a public communications plan. The $100 million amount is more than five times greater than the approximately $16 million available previously from Washington for vaccine distribution in Pennsylvania. The purpose of the hearing was to focus on the challenges of distributing the vaccine and winning public acceptance of it across the sparsely populated landscape of rural Pennsylvania. A recording of the public hearing is available here

Congressional Democratic Leaders Endorse President-elect Biden’s Newly Announced Emergency Relief Package 

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer released a joint statement on the announcement from the incoming Biden-Harris Administration outlining their emergency relief package. Speaker Pelosi and Leader Schumer endorsed the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package released Thursday night. Included in this proposal is increased emphasis on vaccine deployment including efforts to set up community vaccination sites, increasing access to necessary supplies, and additional attention to testing and tracing capabilities. The President-elect is requesting Congress provide $160 billion to fund these programs and execute his national vaccination program. The President-elect plans to create a modernized public health jobs program by investing large sums to fund 100,000 public health workers, nearly tripling the country’s community health worker roles. His plan also places an increased emphasis on addressing health disparities and protecting vulnerable populations.

Timing on the next COVID-19 relief package is unknown. The plan that the President-elect outlined in the release is not expected to be exactly replicated in the final bill text that will be considered by the House and Senate, but rather, it will serve as an opening offer to kickstart negotiations. NRHA expects the House and Senate to use this as a framework for initial conversations when crafting the next COVID-19 relief package. In any future COVID-19 relief package, NRHA is calling on Congress to provide technical changes to rural health clinic (RHC) provisions included in the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act, make permanent telehealth provisions from the CARES Act, continue Medicare sequestration relief through the end of 2021, and provide sufficient investments to providers through the PRF with a 20 percent carveout for rural providers. As discussions on the next COVID-19 relief package continue over the coming weeks, NRHA will keep members apprised via NRHA Connect.

HHS Invests $8 Million to Address Gaps in Rural Telehealth through the Telehealth Broadband Pilot Program

HHS awarded $8 million to fund the Telehealth Broadband Pilot (TBP) program. This program is designed to assess the broadband capacity available to rural health care providers and patient communities to improve their access to telehealth services. NRHA is excited about this pilot program as the need for reliant broadband has become more important as telehealth becomes a more common form of care.

HHS Releases Provider Relief Fund Reporting Update 

HHS announced it will be amending the reporting timeline for the Provider Relief Fund Program (PRF) due to the recent passage of the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act (press release). The PRF portal is open for registration, and the February 15, 2021, reporting date has been extended with no future date set. More information about the new reporting requirements and portal registration can be found here. There is currently no deadline for providers to establish a reporting account in the newly enabled Reporting Portal, but all providers will be required to complete this first step in order to advance and fulfill their reporting requirements once HHS announces the new deadline to do so.