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NRHA’s Rural Health Congress approves new policies

The Rural Health Congress recently approved five new policy papers. The National Rural Health Association’s policy-making body, the Rural Health Congress, determines the association's positions on public policy through a series of policy briefs and issue papers. The congress consists of elected representatives from each of the association's constituency groups and councils as well as Board of Trustees officers. The Comprehensive Quality Improvement in Rural Health Care policy paper is an update of the 2007 paper. It updates the definition of quality of care with a renewed focus that emphasizes patient and family engagement, care coordination, and population health. NRHA can play an essential role to ensure that local, state and federal partnerships are strong, committed and aligned to support comprehensive quality improvement strategies and infrastructure needed to promote continuous quality improvement in rural health care. The Designation of Frontier Health Professional Shortage Areas policy paper demonstrates that the additional resources available to communities federally designated as Health Professional Shortage Areas (HPSA) are critical to allow safety net providers, including those serving populations in frontier areas, to serve their patients with adequate support staff, up-to-date equipment, and appropriate medications. The HPSA criteria currently in place does not ensure access to federal resources in areas with sparse or geographically isolated populations, which often experience the greatest challenges to recruiting health care professionals. The paper recommends the HPSA criteria take into account the unique characteristics and challenges of sparsely populated and geographically isolated areas. A separate designation of frontier HPSA would address many of these issues. The Future of Rural Behavioral Health policy paper outlines the limits rural residents have in accessing behavioral health care. Attracting, broadening and training the workforce, addressing reimbursement and financing issues with appropriate compensation for professional behavioral health care providers and affordable options for patients, fostering the integration of health care services with care coordination and referral networks, being mindful of the changing cultural landscape in rural areas, and utilizing tele-behavioral health will all play essential roles in reducing health disparities in rural communities. Leadership is critically needed to advance comprehensive policies at every level that ensure the availability, accessibility, affordability and acceptability of quality behavioral health services for rural Americans. The Population Health in Rural Communities policy paper emphasizes that no one sector of the health care system can improve population health on its own. Coordination and collaboration in identifying and addressing priority health needs are vital. The paper also states there are insufficient resources in rural communities to address all possible needs; efficient use of resources is needed to maximize population health impact, and adequate reimbursement is needed to incentivize providers to provide coordinated wellness, preventive and acute care services to improve population health. Existing silos that create barriers to coordinated efforts to improve population health also must be eliminated. The Quality of Life Impacts the Recruitment and Retention of Rural Health Care Providers policy paper addresses the need for enhancements to the recruitment and retention of rural providers. By recognizing quality of life as a factor, in addition to professional support and advancement, rural health organizations have greater power to recruit and retain quality health care providers. This paper offers recommendations to increase the number of rural health care providers including policy changes and pilot programs. The next Rural Health Congress meeting will be held Sept. 29 in Kansas City in conjunction with NRHA’s Rural Health Clinic and Critical Access Hospital Conferences.

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