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5 Takeaways from Today’s Rural Health Hearing

January 19, 2022

Pennsylvania’s rural hospitals are transforming to ensure they remain anchors within their communities, but face unique staffing challenges that have been exacerbated by COVID-19.

On Wednesday, the Pennsylvania House Majority Policy Committee hosted a hearing focused on rural health and how Pennsylvania’s rural hospitals have transformed to deliver quality care. Panelists discussed the value of rural hospitals, rural health policy, and perspectives on Pennsylvania’s Rural Health Model.

The panel of hospital leaders included: Dr. Jill Owens, chief medical officer, and vice president of quality, Upper Allegheny Health System; Rick Allen, CEO of Warren General Hospital; Janie Hilfiger, president of UPMC Cole and UPMC Wellsboro; and James Donnelly, chief nursing officer and vice president of patient care services at UPMC Hamot.

Here are five takeaways from today’s hearing:

  1. Rural health workforce incentives:  Loan repayment programs and funding to recruit, retain, and train staff in rural settings are critical to ensure an adequate workforce in underserved areas
  2. Staffing challenges:  The shortage of nursing staff has been particularly hard for rural hospitals, as they struggle to compete with nurse staffing agencies. Mandating nurse staffing ratios would only worsen staffing shortages in rural areas
  3. Transformation plans:  Rural hospitals ensure patients can receive care close to home. They are evolving through innovative delivery models to ensure their future operations
  4. Telehealth:  The growth of telehealth has helped improve access to specialty care and behavioral health in areas that may not have access to outpatient providers
  5. Vaccine hesitancy:  Pennsylvania’s rural leaders are playing an important role to address vaccine hesitancy in their communities

During the hearing, Acting Secretary of Health Keara Klinepeter, Lisa Davis, director, the Pennsylvania Office of Rural Health, and Janice Walters, chief operating officer for the Rural Health Redesign Center highlighted Pennsylvania’s Rural Health Model.

The model aims to provide stability for rural hospitals, ensuring they can count on consistent revenue sources while offering incentives to innovate health care. HAP supported the development and implementation of the model in Pennsylvania during 2019.

“These organizations are not only the health care providers, but also the economic engines for surrounding communities,” Walters said.

HAP is committed to supporting Pennsylvania’s rural hospitals as they deliver outstanding care in their communities. This includes advocating for policies and legislation that support their health care workforce and innovative models of care. 

A replay of today’s hearing is available online.

For additional information about rural health and Pennsylvania’s Rural Health Model, contact Kate Slatt, HAP’s vice president, innovative payment and care delivery.