HHS Announces Record Health Care Workforce Awards in Rural and Underserved Communities

November 22, 2021

As Vice President Harris announced earlier today, the Biden-Harris Administration has awarded the largest field strength in history for its health workforce loan repayment and scholarship programs thanks to a new $1.5 billion investment, including $1 billion in supplemental American Rescue Plan (ARP) funding and other mandatory and annual appropriations. More than 22,700 primary care clinicians now serve in the nation’s underserved tribal, rural and urban communities, including nearly 20,000 National Health Service Corps (NHSC) members, more than 2,500 Nurse Corps nurses, and approximately 250 awardees under a new program, the Substance Use Disorder Treatment and Recovery Loan Repayment Program. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) oversees these critical programs.

“Thanks to the American Rescue Plan, we now have a record number of doctors, dentists, nurses and behavioral health providers treating more than 23.6 million patients in underserved communities,” said Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra. “This demonstrates the Biden-Harris Administration’s commitment to advance health equity and ensure access to critical care across the country. We will continue to invest in our health workforce to make life-saving support within everyone’s reach.”

During the pandemic, thousands of NHSC and Nurse Corps health care providers have served in community health centers and hospitals across the country, caring for COVID-19 patients, supporting the mental health of their communities, administering COVID-19 tests and lifesaving treatments, and putting shots in arms.

Connecting Skilled Providers with Communities in Need

HRSA’s workforce programs directly improve the nation’s health equity by connecting skilled, committed providers with communities in need of care. National Health Service Corps, Nurse Corps, and Substance Use Disorder Treatment and Recovery Loan Repayment Program members work in disciplines urgently needed in underserved tribal, rural and urban communities.

“Today’s awards, which represent a more than 27 percent increase in scholarship and loan repayment awards, support current and future providers who are committed to working in vulnerable communities,” said HRSA Acting Administrator Diana Espinosa. “These awards also provide critical support for health care sites that need to recruit and retain clinicians to meet increasing demand.”

  • Today’s field strength includes more than 11,900 members working in behavioral health disciplines, including psychiatrists, substance use disorder (SUD) counselors and psychiatric nurse practitioners.
  • Nurses represent the largest proportion of the field strength, numbering more than 8,000 across all scholarship and loan repayment programs. National Health Service Corps nurse practitioners make up its largest discipline at approximately 5,400 and fill a critical need for primary care where shortages exist throughout the country.
  • Currently, one-third of HRSA’s health workforce serves in a rural community where health care access may be especially limited or require patients to travel long distances to receive treatment.
  • More than half of all National Health Service Corps members serve in a community health center where patients are seen regardless of their ability to pay.

Providing Treatment and Care to Patients with Substance Use Disorders

Through dedicated funding for substance use disorder (SUD) professionals, HRSA is now supporting more than 4,500 providers treating opioid and other substance use disorder (SUD) issues in hard-hit communities. The Substance Use Disorder Treatment and Recovery Loan Repayment Program was launched in FY 2021 to create loan repayment opportunities for several new disciplines that support HHS’ comprehensive response to the opioid crisis, including clinical support staff and allied health professionals. In addition, this year’s NHSC awards include 1,500 substance use disorder (SUD) clinicians at approved treatment sites through the NHSC’s Substance Use Disorder and Rural Community loan repayment programs.

Investing in the Future Health Workforce

Through scholarship programs, HRSA is investing in the next generation of providers committed to working in communities most in need. The American Rescue Plan supplemental funding announced today allowed HRSA to award almost 1,200 scholarships — a four-fold increase — in the National Health Service Corps and nearly doubled the number of Nurse Corps scholarship awards to 544. In addition, new awards to 136 nurse faculty are supporting training for the future nursing workforce. This year’s scholarship recipients join 2,500 current National Health Service Corps medical, dental, and health professions students and residents and approximately 900 current Nurse Corps scholars preparing to serve in high-need communities across the country. 

HRSA also recently awarded approximately $28.4 million in ARP funding to create new accredited teaching health center primary care residency programs in rural and underserved communities. To further support the expansion of primary care, the Administration plans to continue awarding the full $330 million in ARP funding for Teaching Health Center Graduate Medical Education in the coming months.  This additional funding will support the expansion of the primary care physician and dental workforce in underserved communities through community-based primary care residency programs in family medicine, internal medicine, pediatrics, internal medicine-pediatrics, psychiatry, obstetrics and gynecology, general dentistry, pediatric dentistry, or geriatrics. They are based in the communities they serve, with 80 percent located in community-based health centers, such as Health Center Program-funded health centers, Health Center Program look-alikes, rural health clinics, community mental health centers and tribal health centers.

Opportunities Now Open for Loan Repayment Programs

American Rescue Plan funding has made it possible for the National Health Service Corps to make a historic number of awards to all eligible applicants. Additional American Rescue Plan-funded awards are planned, with the next application cycles for the National Health Service Corps and Nurse Corps loan repayment programs now accepting applications.

The National Health Service Corps helps medical, dental, and behavioral health clinicians pay off their student loan debt through scholarship and loan repayment programs in exchange for working in a Health Professional Shortage Area (HPSA). Nurse Corps participants commit to providing care in facilities with a critical shortage of nurses or as nurse faculty and help reduce the nursing shortage issues experienced across the nation. The Substance Use Disorder Treatment and Recovery Loan Repayment Program makes awards to clinicians, allied health professionals, and support staff who provide substance use disorder (SUD) treatment and recovery services to patients at treatment facilities located in a Mental Health Professional Shortage Area or in a county (or a municipality, if not contained within any county) with a threshold drug overdose death rate defined in statute.

Today’s funding announcement is directly responsive to the recommendations in the final report – PDF of the Presidential COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force.

More information on clinician, program, location and site attributes can be found on HRSA’s Bureau of Health Workforce Clinician Dashboards.

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Source: HHS.gov

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