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$1.9M in federal grants to bolster rural health care in state

by John Moritz | August 21, 2020 at 7:17 a.m.
In this file photo Deputy Secretary Eric Hargan (left), with the Department of Health and Human Services, is shown at the state Capitol that Arkansas will receive grants to improve the quality of health in rural communities. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Thomas Metthe)

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services on Thursday announced $1.9 million in grants to bolster rural health care systems in Arkansas.

HHS Deputy Secretary Eric Hargan visited Little Rock to announce the grants alongside Gov. Asa Hutchinson. He said the four grants Arkansas is to receive are part of a $35 million package to fund medical training, emergency care, telehealth, HIV and AIDS care, and university research in rural states.

"I think it gives you a sense of the kind of comprehensive approach we've taken to rural health care," Hargan said. "Recognizing that we need to tackle everything from workforce development to particular disease challenges like HIV, to transforming care delivery with innovative technology like telehealth."

The four grants awarded to Arkansas are:

• $300,000 to ARcare in Augusta for an emergency care telehealth program.

• $100,000 to ARcare to support its HIV/AIDS program in southeast Arkansas.

• $750,000 to Dardanelle Regional Medical Center to help launch a family practice residency program in Yell County.

• $750,000 to the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences to develop a training track for family medicine.

With the exception of ARcare's HIV program, which will operate as a one-year pilot program, Hargan said the grants will be rebid every three years.

The residency program at Dardanelle Regional Medical Center will support six residents over the three year-grant, said Alan Finley, administrator of the hospital.

Finley said residents will spend their first year at Conway Regional Medical Center before transitioning to Dardanelle and the surrounding area for two years.

The ARcare grant for emergency telehealth will help connect paramedics with emergency room doctors to coordinate care, said Steven Collier, chief executive officer of ARCare. ARcare operates in Arkansas, Kentucky and Mississippi and provides services such as primary care, behavioral health services, pharmacies and community outreach programs, according to its website.

In Woodruff County, where ARcare is based, the local hospital closed in 1986, and ever since, patients have had to be transported to nearby White County, Collier said. One of the goals of the grant program will be to reduce unnecessary trips to the hospital, saving time and thousands of dollars, he said.

ARcare already operates the statewide Ryan White Program for HIV/AIDS care, but Collier said, "The southeast part of Arkansas is the weaker part, in terms of services." Up to a third of HIV/AIDS patients in the region do not receive the care they need, Collier said.

The grant-funded pilot program will allow ARcare to partner with a coalition of 14 hospitals in the region to expand services, Collier said.

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