HHS provides $424 million for COVID-19 testing in rural health clinics
The Department of Health and Human Services today announced that it is extending the deadline by which hospitals and other providers that received Provider Relief Fund money after June 30, 2020, must use their COVID-19 PRF payments. The HHS announcement also extends the amount of time providers will have to report information on the use of their PRF money as part of other changes to PRF reporting requirements and clarifies which providers must report.
In a statement shared with the media this afternoon, AHA President and CEO Rick Pollack said, “The Provider Relief Fund has been a life-line to hospitals, health systems and caregivers across the country, helping to keep our doors open during the pandemic in order to continue providing essential services to patients and communities. The AHA thanks HHS for listening to our concerns and extending the deadline for hospitals, health systems and other health care providers to use this critical relief funding. Today’s announcement to give some health care providers more time to spend emergency coronavirus funding will to help ensure that hospitals and health systems can continue the battle against COVID-19 as cases persist.”
Rural Health Clinics are key healthcare access points and community resources. They have a special designation given to healthcare practices in underserved rural areas by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, to help ensure access to care for rural residents.
In May, HHS announced close to $1 billion in funds to strengthen rural coronavirus testing and response, which was expected to increase the number of vaccines sent to rural communities, expand testing and other COVID-19 prevention services, and work to increase vaccine confidence by partnering with local voices and community organizations.
HRSA’s Rural Health Clinic COVID-19 Testing and Mitigation Program will provide $460 million to more than 4,600 RHCs across the country. RHCs will use the funds to maintain and increase COVID-19 testing, expand access to testing for rural residents, and broaden efforts to mitigate the spread of the virus in community-specific ways.
To further support COVID-19 testing in rural areas, HRSA will provide $398 million to existing grantees of the Small Rural Hospital Improvement Program to work with about 1,730 small rural hospitals (those with fewer than 50 beds) and critical access hospitals on COVID-19 testing and mitigation.
Targeting underserved communities has long been one of the stated goals of the Biden Administration, with HHS announcing in March a planned investment of $12 billion to expand COVID-19 testing.
As part of that effort, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is putting $2.25 billion into reducing health disparities among racial and ethnic minority groups and people living in rural areas. It is offering grants to public health departments that will improve testing and contact-tracing capabilities, develop innovative mitigation and prevention strategies, upgrade data collection and reporting, and address social determinants of health related to COVID-19.
An additional $150 million will go to vulnerable communities to assist administration of monoclonal antibody treatments. The money may be used to increase staffing, set up infusion centers and purchase necessary equipment, HHS said. The support will focus on communities that CDC has determined to be particularly vulnerable based on its social vulnerability index.
Also in March, HHS’ Office of Minority Health said it was offering $250 million in grants to get COVID-19 vaccinations and safety information to underserved populations. The health literacy grants will go to localities, which will partner with community-based organizations to reach racial and racial and ethnic minority, rural and other vulnerable populations.