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Rural Healthcare

HHS Unveils Telehealth Grants to Address Rural Maternal, Obstetrics Care

By News

HHS is kicking off Black Maternal Health Week by offering three four-year grants, totaling $12 million, to projects aimed at boosting maternal health outcomes among underserved populations in rural America.

By Eric Wicklund

– Federal officials are making $12 million available for three projects that aim to approve maternal and obstetrics care for underserved populations in rural America, and they expect telehealth to be part of the program.

The Notice of Funding Opportunity from the Health Resources and Services Administration’s (HRSA’s) Federal Office of Rural Health Policy comes as federal officials kick off Black Maternal Health Week. The HRSA’s Rural Maternity and Obstetrics Management Strategies (RMOMS) program, which will offer the three award recipients grants of up to $1 million annually for four years, aims to boost outcomes in rural and underserved population by testing new models of connected care.

“Improving maternal health outcomes – particularly among Black women – is priority for the Biden administration and for the Department,” Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra, said in a press release issued Monday. “Expanding access to health insurance coverage, preventative care and investing in rural maternity care is one step forward. With the American Rescue Plan, President Biden gave states tools to combat the racial disparities in pregnancy-related deaths by providing an easier pathway for states to ensure mothers access to the care they need after birth. Continuous health care coverage reduces health care costs and improves outcomes.”

In an HRSA release highlighting the RMOMS grant program, officials said the three award recipients would have four years to plan and launch programs that improve maternal obstetrics care in rural communities. Those programs would have four areas of focus: risk-appropriate care approaches in rural regions; continuum of care through network approaches; telehealth and specialty care; and financial sustainability.

“The program will allow awardees to test models in order to address unmet needs for their target population, which could include populations who have historically suffered from poorer health outcomes, health disparities and other inequities,” the release says.

Applicants must be part of a network serving HRSA-designated rural areas that includes at least two rural hospitals or critical access hospitals (CAHs), at least one federally qualified health center (FQHC), at least one Level II and/or Level IV facility (as defined by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists), locally and/or regionally available social services in the continuum of care and the state Medicaid agency.

The HRSA will host a webinar on the program on April 22. Applications are due by June 4.

HHS isn’t the only organization taking a hard look at racial and ethnic disparities in maternal health outcomes. Two months ago, Congress saw the introduction of a package of 12 bills called the Black Maternal Momnibus Act of 2021.

Among other things, the package of bills calls on the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services to consider payment models that improve the integration of telehealth services into maternal healthcare programs and establish grant programs for models of care that include access to broadband internet and remote patient monitoring services and programs that use mHealth tools to address social determinants of health.

Other bills in the package, which is endorsed by more than 190 organizations, would make targeted investments in programs that address social determinants of health, fund community-based organizations and programs that might use connected health tools and platforms to address issues like substance abuse, pre- and post-partum mental health, veteran care and building the perinatal workforce, and improve data collection efforts and quality measures to improve health outcomes and access to care.

In addition, several of the 14 applicants selected in January’s first round of the Federal Communications Commission’s Connected Care Pilot Program aim to use funding to launch or expand connected health programs that address high-risk pregnancies and maternal health outcomes.

“As maternal mortality rates continue to drop around the world, they are rising in the U.S., leaving behind devastated families and children who will grow up never knowing their moms,” US Rep. Lauren Underwood (D-IL), who co-founded and co-chairs the Black Maternal Health Caucus and is one of the co-sponsors of the Black Maternal Momnibus Act, said in a press release. “This crisis demands urgent attention and serious action to save the lives of Black mothers and all women of color and birthing people across the county.”