States use HHS grants to offset care gaps

In the face of a looming primary care shortage and an ongoing rural health crisis, many healthcare programs invest in training nurses to work in underserved areas with the help of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

For example, HHS recently awarded a $600,000 grant to students pursuing master's degrees in the University of Maine's Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP) Program, according to the Bangor Daily News. The grant effectively pays four semesters' worth of tuition per student in the program.

"The goal of the funding is they want more care providers in underserved areas as soon as possible," said Nancy Fishwick, director of UMaine's School of Nursing.

Kelly McCoubrey, who works as a registered nurse at Downeast Community Hospital in Machias and plans to enroll in the FNP Master's program, said the region where she works has an inadequate number of healthcare practitioners. "I live in Washington County and hospitals are struggling to stay afloat. I thought I should probably [become a practitioner] now if I'm gonna do it," she told the Daily News.

Meanwhile, in Kentucky, HHS awarded a two-year, $670,000 grant to the University of Louisville's (U of L) School of Nursing, according to Louisville Business First. The school will apply the grant toward 15 new and current students' tuition, living expenses, books and program fees, according to the article. Washington state will get a grant of $300,000, the same amount it received in 2012, according to the Puget Sound Business Journal.

U of L aims to recruit students from underprivileged backgrounds and underserved communities in hopes they will want to serve their communities upon graduating. "Preparing AGNPs [adult-gerontology nurse practitioners] and FNPs in primary care is essential to offset the anticipated shortage of more than 400 primary care physicians in the Louisville Metro area by the year 2020," S. Lee Ridner, project director, associate dean for graduate programs and family nurse practitioner program coordinator, said in a statement.

Nor is nurse recruitment to close primary care gaps a new idea at the state level; a New Mexico campaign in 2013 aimed to expand the number of healthcare professionals in the state to account for patients newly covered by Medicaid, FierceHealthcare previously reported.

To learn more:
- read the Daily News article
- here's the Louisville Business First article
- check out the Business Journal article
- read the U of L statement