The Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), an arm of the HHS, is distributing nearly $1 billion from the Biden Administration’s American Rescue Plan to help rural health providers increase COVID-19 vaccinations, expand testing, and improve vaccine confidence, according to a recent press release.
“Rural health providers are vital to ensure equity in COVID-19 testing, vaccinations and in making sure rural residents have the information about vaccine safety, especially for populations who are at an increased risk for COVID-19 infection or severe illness due to systemic health and social inequities and geographic isolation,” said HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra in the May 4th announcement.
The Biden Administration’s American Rescue Plan intends to provide COVID-19 relief for businesses and individuals, increase vaccinations, and safely reopen schools, among other initiatives. Approximately $160 billion from the American Rescue Plan will go toward COVID-19 mitigation and vaccination efforts, with $1 billion targeted at rural communities, according to the White House website.
HRSA will distribute a large portion of the funds to rural health clinics across the nation, supporting their efforts to reach underserved communities in sparsely populated areas. In order to qualify as a rural health clinic (RHC), a clinic must be certified by CMS and have less than 50 beds.
Approximately 4,600 RHCs will be eligible to receive $100,000 each through the HRSA’s Rural Health Clinic COVID-19 Testing and Mitigation Program, totaling $460 million. The funding will be used primarily to increase testing and vaccinations and create mitigation strategies suited specifically to rural communities.
In addition, RHCs will have the opportunity to join the new Rural Health Clinic COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution (RHCVD) Program, a collaborative initiative founded by the CDC and HRSA. Certified RHCs will be able to receive vaccines directly from the Biden Administration. Through the RHCVD, HRSA will also provide $100 million in grants to certified RHCs, with the intent of offering resources and tools to address health inequity and target communities with lower vaccination rates.
HRSA will also distribute $398 million to existing grant recipients of the Small Rural Hospital Improvement Program (SHIP) for testing and prevention efforts. Approximately 1,730 rural hospitals are eligible to receive up to $230,000 each.
“Addressing the health care challenges rural areas face requires a targeted approach that’s tailored to the needs of local communities,” said HRSA Acting Administrator Diana Espinosa in the statement. “This critical funding strengthens our ability to deliver on President Biden’s commitment to ensure that the nation’s underserved communities and those who are disproportionately affected by COVID-19 get the help they need.”
Across the United States, vaccine enthusiasm is hitting a plateau, and public health professionals are altering communication strategies to bolster vaccine confidence. Furthermore, rural health disparities due to poverty, disease, and infrequent access to healthcare have set rural communities at a disadvantage when it comes to combating COVID-19.
“Support to Rural Health Clinics and small rural hospitals for COVID-19 testing, strengthening vaccine allocation and confidence, and vaccine outreach will help rural residents make informed health decisions about COVID-19 to protect themselves and their communities,” said Becerra.