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April HRSA Health IT Grantee Spotlight

The National Rural Health Resource Center’s Technical Assistance and Services Center Provides Health IT Support to Critical Access Hospitals and Rural Providers

This month, the HRSA Health IT Grantee Spotlight highlights the fantastic work of the National Rural Health Resource Center’s Technical Assistance and Services Center (TASC) exit disclaimer based in Duluth, Minnesota. Since 1999, TASC has provided technical assistance education and tools to critical access hospitals (CAHs) and HRSA’s Office of Rural Health Policy (ORHP) Medicare Rural Hospital Flexibility (Flex) Program grantees.

Critical Access Hospitals and the ORHP Flex Program

CAHs were created under a program within the 1997 Balanced Budget Act with the intent to strengthen rural health care by encouraging states to take a comprehensive and holistic approach. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) defines CAHs as public, non-profit hospitals that have less than 25 beds, are located more than a 35-mile drive from any other hospital or CAH, and maintain an annual average length of stay of 96 hours per patient for acute inpatient care. In order to gain CAH certification, a hospital or health clinic must be located within a rural setting and in a State that has established a Medicare Rural Hospital Flexibility (Flex) Program with CMS. If a rural hospital or clinic converts to CAH status, the facility is eligible for increased Medicare payment incentives. The Flex program was created to help states convert rural hospitals to CAH status. The Flex program provides funding to state governments to spur quality and performance improvement activities; stabilize rural hospital finance; and integrate Emergency Medical Services (EMS) into their health care systems.

TASC’s Mission Under Their Grant From ORHP

The Technical Assistance and Services Center (TASC) exit disclaimer provides technical assistance resources to help rural hospitals become eligible CAHs and meet the Flex program’s criteria for improving rural healthcare in the community. TASC’s technical assistance is specifically focused in the areas of health IT and quality improvement.   According to Brock Slabach, Senior Vice President for Member Services at the National Rural Health Association (NHRA) exit disclaimer,  "The National Rural Health Association is proud to work with the National Rural Health Resource Center in two key areas: the National Rural HIT Coalition and the Technical Assistance and Services Center that serves each State's Flex Program.  Both of these programs add significant value to NRHA's activities, for which we're very thankful."

TASC Staff has been helping HRSA and ORHP grantees since 1999.

TASC’s Health IT Technical Assistance Services for CAHs and Rural Providers

TASC receives funding through a cooperative agreement with HRSA’s Office of Rural Health Policy (ORHP) to provide technical support to the 45 state Flex grantees. Examples of health IT activities and technical support

TASC has available to HRSA ORHP grantees and safety net communities include the following:
National Rural HIT Coalition exit disclaimer, a network of rural and health IT leaders from organizations at every level, working together advance the implementation of health IT across rural America.

  • National Rural HIT Workforce Summit in Washington, DC, launched by the National Rural HIT Coalition in Sept 2009.   

  • Chief Information Officer, a resource that provides consultation and technical support for the health IT needs of the Flex grantees and CAHs.

  • Technical assistance webinars and conference calls, providing expert speakers and resources.

  • National Rural Health Resource Center's Technical Assistance and Services Center exit disclaimer, provides rural relevant health IT materials and resources.

  • Workshops and conferences to increase the awareness and value of health IT.

  • Rural Health IT Search Engine exit disclaimer to assist in the location of relevant health IT information.

  • Knowledge experts that provide health IT technical assistance and local relevant health IT focused information to CAHs and other rural providers.

Through this cooperative agreement, TASC has supported the conversion of over 1,300 prospective payment hospitals to critical access hospital (CAH) status and helped  Flex grantees with their health IT and quality improvement needs.

One example of how TASC is assisting the health IT needs of the rural provider community is demonstrated in their work with The California State Rural Health Association (CSRHA) exit disclaimer.  According to Ms. Lynn Barr, Director of Health Information Technology, CSRHA is using TASC’s HIT Toolkit for Critical Access and Small Hospitals to help a thirteen hospital network in California meet the criteria for CMS’ meaningful use incentive program. According to Ms. Barr, “each of the hospitals is currently following the toolkit’s EHR Roadmap as a framework to guide them to meaningful use.” Ms Barr describes the hospitals' progress as "significant” and has stated that the toolkit is "invaluable."

The example above demonstrates how TASC’s strong technical resources, education, and health IT-related programs have spawned a number of successful store is of CAHs and ORHP Flex grantees using health IT in innovative ways.

For more information, please contact  TASC at