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The Search for Rural Health Solutions

Deputy HHS Secretary Eric Hargan spent a day at HRSA last month, joining in a multi-agency observance of National Rural Health Day. A product of rural southwestern, Ill., the Deputy Secretary's home county today has a population of some 6,000 residents.
Deputy HHS Secretary Eric Hargan spent a day at HRSA last month, joining in a multi-agency observance of National Rural Health Day. A product of rural southwestern, Illinois, the Deputy Secretary's home county today has a population of some 6,000 residents.

 

Providing health care to the estimated 57 million people who live in rural America is a challenge central to the mission of the Department -- and HRSA in particular, Deputy HHS Secretary Eric Hargan said at the agency's National Rural Health Day observance.

The fact that approximately one in every six Americans live or work in small towns and remote areas "imposes its own issues (and) dilemmas in how to provide that care in the best possible way," Hargan said. For that reason, transforming how people finance their health care and improving the value of the services they receive is at the core of the Administration's rural strategy, now underway.

"I want to thank everybody present here today ... for your dedication to the topic we're here to discuss," said the Deputy Secretary, a native of rural Illinois whose family has produced doctors, dentists and nurses for decades. "My interest in rural health care goes very far back, in fact, way back. Rural health care actually runs in my family, five generations deep."

HRSA's investments in combating the nation's opioid crisis and improving maternal health in rural areas through a variety of innovative programs will be integral to improving rural health, added Administrator Tom Engels.

 

From left: Deputy Secretary Hargan; Dr. Francis Chesley (AHRQ); Dr. Michael Toedt (IHS); and Tom Engels held a panel discussion following Hargan's remarks. Rural care delivery will in the future rely upon close integration of health centers, rural clinics, traditional hospitals, telehealth technology and other developing models of care, Hargan said.
From left: Deputy Secretary Hargan; Dr. Francis Chesley (AHRQ); Dr. Michael Toedt (IHS); and Tom Engels held a panel discussion following Hargan's remarks. Rural care delivery will in the future rely upon close integration of health centers, rural clinics, traditional hospitals, telehealth technology and other developing models of care, Hargan said.

 

A workforce suited to the task is likewise critical: the Administration is committed to strengthening rural residency programs and enabling providers to "practice to the top of their license."

A recent Presidential Executive Order emphasizes the need to "open up ways for providers like nurses, physician assistants and midwives to be compensated based on the work that they are doing, rather than the license they hold."

Just last week, individual HHS operating divisions submitted rural action plans to the department.

"So there is a lot of action to come," Hargan told the audience. "All of you are going to get to play a part in that work."

 

Deputy Secretary Hargan and Tom Engels toured a HRSA-funded mobile Medication-Assisted Treatment van operated by the Caroline County Health Department on Maryland's rural Eastern Shore with Dr. Eric Weintraub (center) of the University of Maryland School of Medicine. The van offers onsite diagnosis, treatment and peer-counseling supported by telehealth services that link directly to the medical school in Baltimore.
Deputy Secretary Hargan and Tom Engels toured a HRSA-funded mobile Medication-Assisted Treatment van operated by the Caroline County Health Department on Maryland's rural Eastern Shore with Dr. Eric Weintraub (center) of the University of Maryland School of Medicine. The van offers onsite diagnosis, treatment and peer-counseling supported by telehealth services that link directly to the medical school in Baltimore.

 

It is one of several such vans operating in hard-hit parts of the state.  According to the Maryland Department of Health, there was a 14.8 percent increase in opioid-linked deaths during the first half of 2018 over 2017 -- part of a continuing trend worsened by an influx of the powerful narcotic fentanyl.

Check out HRSA's rural health infographic (PDF - 2.7 MB).

Date Last Reviewed:  November 2019