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Hickenlooper, Blackburn Introduce Bipartisan Bill to Increase Access to Health Care in Rural Communities

Jul 28, 2021

Rural Health Innovation Act establishes a grant program for rural health providers to increase staffing, hours, critical technology, and equipment

Washington, D.C.–U.S. Senators John Hickenlooper and Marsha Blackburn introduced the Rural Health Innovation Act, a bill to remove barriers to quality health care for Americans living in rural, underserved communities. Health centers in rural areas face geographic challenges, workforce shortages, and often lack broadband access, all of which contribute to increased mortality rates for Americans living in rural communities. 

This bipartisan legislation works to close this health gap by creating two competitive grant programs that would allow Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs) or Rural Health Clinics (RHCs) to better provide for the community’s urgent care needs and rural health departments to

expand to meet urgent care and triage needs.

“Health clinics and public health departments function as lifelines in rural communities. These providers regularly make the difference between life and death. We need to support them and give them the resources they need to improve health outcomes in our rural areas,” said Hickenlooper.

“Rural Tennessee communities know all too well that when hospitals close, they will be left without medical care when emergencies arise,” said Blackburn. “Filling the rural health care gap must be a priority. With the support of Senator Hickenlooper, the Rural Health Innovation Act will employ a collaborative federal, state, and local approach to provide urgent care solutions for rural areas in the Volunteer State and across America.”

“The National Rural Health Association applauds Senators Marsha Blackburn and John Hickenlooper for their work to innovate and enhance rural health care. The Rural Health Innovation Act of 2021 enables transformation in rural America by establishing grants so that rural providers such as Rural Health Clinics and Federally Qualified Health Centers can expand provision of emergency health services. Emergency services are vital to rural communities and grants to help rural providers purchase equipment and pay essential staff will enhance health outcomes in our most rural communities,” said Alan Morgan, Chief Executive Officer of the National Rural Health Association.

The Rural Health Innovation Act creates two grant programs administered by the Health Resources and Services Administration’s Community-Based Division. 

The first, the Rural Health Center Innovation Awards Program, would help FQHCs and RHCs expand operations to meet the community’s urgent care and triage needs:

  • Grants would be limited to $500,000 for existing facilities, and $750,000 for new facilities.
  • Grant funding can be used to expand hours of operation, pay for construction or renovation, hire additional medical staff, and acquire new equipment.

The second Rural Health Department Enhancement Program would allow rural health departments to expand to meet urgent care and triage needs:

  • Grants would be limited to $500,000. Communities must have an existing health department with a government-funded building, medical staff, and medical equipment.
  • Grant funding can be used to obtain additional medical equipment, hire additional personnel, and provide public health outreach.

The bill specifically prioritizes grant recipients that are already operating in areas of critical need and considers any potential overlap of service for grant recipients.

Full bill text is available HERE.


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