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Wakefield focuses on workforce and White House Rural Council to kick off NRHA’s Policy Institute

National Rural Health Association CEO Alan Morgan introduced Mary Wakefield, PhD, U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration administrator, as a “rural rock star,” who then kicked off NRHA’s 24th annual Rural Health Policy Institute Monday morning in D.C. She told more than 400 rural health advocates gathered from across the country, “I’m pleased the Office of Rural Health Policy (ORHP) is working with NRHA and focusing like a laser to increase the rural health workforce.” “We’re investing in the next generation of providers of community-centered primary care,” she added. Wakefield, a registered nurse from rural North Dakota, highlighted the success of the National Health Service Corps as a “lifeline for a number of rural communities.” The corps has increased from 3,600 clinicians in 2008 to nearly 10,000 in 2012. Almost half of those physicians, mental and behavioral health providers, dentists and more serve rural sites, Wakefield said. She also discussed HRSA’s Office or Rural Health Policy’s 25th anniversary in November 2012. “Some of you in this room are old enough to remember that… I’m old enough to remember that,” Wakefield said laughing. “Even as we look back, we’re also very much looking forward to the next 25 years and looking for new ways to leverage existing programs.” In addition to workforce initiatives, she discussed a focus on advancing telehealth “to play a key role in health access and improving health outcomes.” Wakefield also highlighted part of President’s Obama’s Improving Rural Health Care Initiative to build an evidence base for rural health care quality. Obama has included rural-specific goals in his budget each year. And 1,074 of the 1,329 critical access hospitals have voluntarily committed to report quality data “and engage in benchmarking that can only improve outcomes,” she said. Another of Obama’s rural health priorities is improved collaboration among federal offices. Wakefield pointed out that rural residents have long understood the value of collaboration and added the White House Rural Council, established by Obama and led by USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack (who will be speaking to NRHA members later today), has been a vehicle to improve collaboration with a focus on health care. “The council quickly recognized the connection between the health of rural communities and rural economies,” she said. Wakefield took attendees’ questions and then introduced White House Rural Council senior policy advisor Doug McKaliip who added that one critical access hospital generates 107 jobs and $4.8 million in revenue in rural communities and just one primary care physician help generate $1.5 million and create 23 jobs. “I’d like to say thank you to this group. You are absolutely vital to the president’s priorities,” he said. “You are an inspiration to me. You are difference makers changing the way things look in rural areas.” Click here for details on the event.

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