Apr 09 2024

How to Leverage Federal Grant Programs in Newly Defined Rural Communities

More than 1,100 communities were redefined as “rural” in 2020. Healthcare organizations in those areas can maximize new grant eligibility with the help of a partner.

Growth in the U.S. population and changes in its demographics over the past 40 years have led to a disparity in care access. In 1980, 740 counties were considered “metro” areas while approximately 2,400 counties were considered “nonmetro.” That balance has now shifted; as of 2020, there are more than 1,250 metro counties and fewer than 2,000 nonmetro counties.

This reduction of the rural population, combined with a challenging payer mix, is leading to economic hardship and hospital closures in rural areas. According to a recent report from Chartis, 141 rural hospitals have closed since 2010, and an additional 453 rural hospitals are vulnerable to closure today.

While the situation may appear bleak, rural hospitals now have greater access to funding opportunities because of their rural status than they would have had otherwise. Following the 2020 census, more than 1,100 communities that were previously considered “urban” were redefined as “rural.” The Federal Office of Rural Health Policy says the recent changes to rural definitions will increase eligibility for many organizations to receive federal funding. 

Rural organizations can apply for grants that focus specifically on technology and security solutions rather than having to apply for an expansive grant that targets a specific disease within a patient population, such as HIV or diabetes. That’s the case for many urban organizations seeking federal funding.

Despite these grant opportunities, many rural organizations and independent or community hospitals aren’t taking advantage of the funding availability. Here’s what they need to know to change that.

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How Rural Healthcare Organizations Can Benefit from Federal Grants

Gaining access to federal grant dollars for IT investments can be transformative for a rural healthcare organization that is dealing with a tight budget. Such funding can impact healthcare delivery, empower clinicians, enable the organization to improve outcomes and enhance the patient experience.

Furthermore, access to additional IT resources can lead to enhanced efficiency, improved patient care, increased access to healthcare services and better patient engagement. For example, a general practitioner can use telehealth services to connect a patient with a specialist located outside their immediate geographic area.

There are Distance Learning and Telemedicine Grants, which help rural communities better connect to each other and beyond using advanced telecommunications technology. Funds can be used to purchase audio, video and interactive video equipment; broadband facilities for distance learning or telemedicine; and computer hardware, networking components and software, among other resources.

There is also the Healthcare Connected Fund Program, which provides a 65 percent discount to rural healthcare organizations on eligible broadband connectivity expenses. Many organizations don’t realize this funding can also be used for hardware, so they may be taking advantage of these grant dollars but not to their full extent.

READ MORE: Here are three ways for independent hospitals to achieve cost containment.

The Advantage of Partnership for Organizations Seeking Grant Funding

One thing we’ve learned working closely with healthcare providers is that many rural organizations don’t have full-time grant writers on staff — or if they do, they’re being pulled in several directions. Those organization may be losing out on opportunities because they’re late to the game or unable to dedicate the time and energy needed to pursue funding.

They also may not be fully aware of funding sources that are available to them. And while some hospitals may be aware of available grant programs, they might not know how to maximize the impact of these programs.

Fortunately, rural healthcare organizations can lean on their partners in these situations. By working with a technology partner such as CDW that has resources dedicated to understanding these programs, rural hospitals can maximize their benefits.

In addition to our public sector funding strategy team, CDW also has a network of references to aid customers in their pursuit of federal grant dollars. While we can’t write the grant, we know the eligibility requirements and when the application windows for different grants are open. Our insights can give you a better chance of receiving funding.

EXPLORE: How can rural healthcare systems strengthen their resilience?

We have helped several organizations through these processes and can share best practices from our experiences. If organizational IT leaders have a question about how a grant works or what to include or leave out of an application, they can always reach out to a CDW expert who will advise them.

It’s important that an organization’s leaders understand that using grants for funding is a long-term process. Grant windows vary throughout the year; each has its own timeline for application and awards. Healthcare providers need to plan grant funding around projects rather than expecting to receive funding in time for an urgent need.

When rural healthcare organizations engage partners such as CDW regularly, we have an idea of what their goals are over the next two to three years, and we can help facilitate those grant applications, so the funding aligns with their organization’s plans. A strong partner relationship can be extremely valuable to rural healthcare organizations.

This article is part of HealthTech’s MonITor blog series.


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