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Rural Health Research Centers

Rural Health Research Centers are designed to help policy-makers better understand the problems that rural communities face in accessing quality, affordable health care and leading healthier lives. The Research Centers work to understand the ways in which the health of rural Americans can be improved, analyze the implications of federal and state policy options, and communicate research results to policy-makers and others who may take action.

The Research Centers Program is the only Federal research program entirely dedicated to producing policy-relevant research on health care and population health in rural areas. Each Research Center has its own identity (although it may be part of a larger organization), Web site, and core staff that include a disciplinary mix of health services research, epidemiology, public health, geography, medicine, and mental health. Over the four-year award cycle, each Research Center develops a portfolio of several research projects per year in conjunction with input from the Office of Rural Health Policy and other experts. The current award cycle covers 2008-12.

To strengthen the dissemination of research results of the Research Centers, the Gateway to Rural Health Research was launched in early 2006. The Gateway is a Web site which allows “one stop shopping” about the Research Centers. The Gateway provides easy access to the results of rural research funded by ORHP, as well as summaries of research in progress. The Gateway’s Research Alerts provide e-mail updates when new publications become available. Through their research, the Research Centers bring to the forefront the health care challenges facing rural America. 

Making an Impact

Hospital Financing

North Carolina Rural Health Research and Policy Analysis Center

  • Research: Collected state-level information on Medicaid reimbursement for critical access hospitals (CAH).
  • Impact: State officials used comparative data from other states in discussions to improve their CAHs’ reimbursement under Medicaid.

Health Quality

Upper Midwest Rural Health Research Center

  • Research: Analysis of quality measure reporting and pay-for-performance in rural hospitals.
  • Impact: Informed the Listening Sessions on Medicare Hospital Value-based Purchasing and decision making by Centers for Medicare and Medicaid.


WWAMI Rural Health Research Center

  • Research: Analysis of health workforce shortages in Community Health Centers.
  • Impact: Informed a workforce development collaborative linking Community Health Centers, Area Health Education Centers and training programs.

Targeted Rural Health Research Grants

The Targeted Rural Health Research Grant Program funds policy-oriented research projects which address critical issues facing rural communities in their quest to secure affordable, high-quality health services. Grantees conduct and disseminate policy-relevant research on issues of national significance in the field of rural health services as it relates to a selected number of topic areas. The list of eligible topics is revised each year in order to maximize the policy-relevance of grantees’ projects, and ultimately their final products. Grantees’ research findings help to inform ORHP’s policy analysis and review activities, as well as the broader audience of national, State, and local decision-makers concerned with rural health issues. Research findings have been instrumental in bridging gaps between policy and program needs.

Policy Analysis Initiatives

ORHP funds a number of policy analysis initiatives to help inform policy making.The Rapid Response to Requests for Rural Data Analysis to supports quick turn-around requests for rural data analysis. Due to the nature of rural policy analysis and formulation, policymakers often require information that is available only through specialized analysis of databases of information. In order to acquire the information from the data sets needed to identify trends, problems and progress in rural health care financing and access to care in rural areas, ORHP funds a consortium of research institutions that have access to the required data storage capacity, personnel, and computer resources to provide the information.

The Rural Policy Analysis Cooperative Agreement supports research and analysis on key policy issues affecting rural communities. Funding supported activities with rural community colleges health workforce development; the Rural Policy Research Institute (RUPRI) Rural Health Panel; the Rural Hospital Issues Group; and the creation of a RUPRI Rural Human Services Panel. The RUPRI Rural Health Panel and Rural Human Services Panel provides science-based, objective analysis to Federal policymakers. Panel members come from a variety of academic disciplines and author documents that reflect the consensus judgment of all panelists. The Rural Hospitals Issues Group, a panel of hospital administrators and finance experts from across the country, discuss issues such as the Medicare reimbursement, Medicare Advantage, and other policy issues affecting small rural hospitals.

The Flex Monitoring Team Go to exit disclaimer. is a performance monitoring resource for Critical Access Hospitals, States, and Communities. The Rural Health Research Centers at the Universities of Minnesota, North Carolina-Chapel Hill, and Southern Maine (the Flex Monitoring Team), are the recipients of a 5-year cooperative agreement award from the Federal Office of Rural Health Policy to continue to monitor and evaluate the Medicare Rural Hospital Flexibility Grant Program (Flex Program). The monitoring project is assessing the impact of the Flex Program on Critical Access Hospitals and their communities and the role of states in achieving overall program objectives. 

Making an Impact

Medicare Enrollment

RUPRI Center for Rural Health Policy Analysi

  • What they did: Tracked rural beneficiary enrollment into different types of Medicare Advantage (MA) plans.
  • Impact: Findings have been used in discussions of the need to continue (or not) federal floor payments for MA plans.

Pharmacy Access

North Carolina Rural Health Research and Policy Analysis Centers

  • What they did: Assessed local resident access to rural community pharmacy services.
  • Impact: Results are being utilized by the State Office of Rural Health in discussions with pharmacists, providers and beneficiaries around the state.
Rural Health Research Gateway

Rural Health Research Gateway logo.

The Rural Health Research Gateway Go to exit disclaimer. is a “one stop shop” for research findings from all the Rural Health Research Centers.

Subscribe to Research Gateway email updates Go to exit disclaimer. to receive periodic notices of new publications.

Rural Health Research Centers Directory