Healthcare Workforce Gets an Infusion of Grant Money



On Thursday, Health and Human Services (or, HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced that $55.5 million in grants was awarded during fiscal year 2013. A majority of the awards ($45.4 million) will be given to nursing programs, to be invested in strengthening the nursing workforce.

In the announcement, Sebelius stated why the funding had been made available. “These grants and the many training programs they support have a real impact by helping to create innovative care delivery models and improving access to high-quality care.” The grants will be managed by the Health Resources and Services Administration (or, HRSA) of HHS. HRSA was created in 1982, following a merger of the Health Resources Administration and the Health Services Administration. The primary function of the department is improving access to primary care in the U.S.

HRSA’s role expanded under the Affordable Care Act. It its fiscal year 2013 budget justification, the Administrator, Mary Wakefield, Ph.D., R.N, wrote “HRSA now has an even broader role, and an even bigger mandate.” She defined three broad areas that generally encompass the 50 provisions in the law HRSA is responsible for. HRSA is expected to enlarge the primary care safety net, particularly in underdeveloped and underserved areas; train future generations of primary care providers to practice patient-centered care; and increase preventative care methods.

HRSA strives to accomplish its goals by analyzing communities in the U.S. to designate Health Professional Shortage Areas (or, HPSAs) and Medically Underserved Areas or Populations. As of November 14, HRSA estimates there are 5,800 Primary Care HPSAs, meaning that there is only one doctor per 3,500 people. Dental HPSAs are defined as one dentist per 5,000 people, and there are 4,600 of areas with that designation. In mental health, there are 3,700 HPSAs, or one psychiatrist serving 30,000 people.

In addition to providing support to grow the nursing network, grant money has been made available tied to programs that resonate with HRSA’s ACA expanded role. Training for doctoral level psychologists to address behavioral health in underserved areas was awarded $2.4 million; a $3 million grant is for residency programs oriented toward preventative health care; and state designated dental health shortages will receive $3.1 million. An additional $1.4 million will be contributed to four centers dedicated to researching workforce, and health care needs in the U.S.

Of the grants, Wakefield said an array of health care workforce needs are being addressed. “From diversity to dentistry — all are critical to achieving a skilled workforce now and in the future,” Wakefield said. A full breakdown of the grants is available here.

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