Penn State Intercom......April 25, 2002

College of Medicine
program will improve
basic health-care access

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation board of directors has approved $22.5 million over four years for the reauthorization of the Southern Rural Access Program.

The reauthorization is the second phase of a long-term commitment by the foundation to improve access to basic health care for millions of residents in rural areas of the South who have been identified as having the worst health status in the nation.

The Phase II reauthorization, which came during the foundation's January board of directors meeting, brings the total eight-year investment to $32.8 million for grant making, technical assistance, administration and evaluation of the program. The program is targeted at geographically concentrated areas of Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas and West Virginia.

Administered by the Rural Health Policy Center in the College of Medicine at Hershey Medical Center, the program first was authorized in 1997 to increase the supply of providers in underserved areas; strengthen the health-care infrastructure; and build capacity at state and local levels to tackle health-care problems.

To achieve these goals the program focuses on rural health leadership development; recruitment and retention of primary health-care providers; rural health network development; and revolving loan fund development.

A special opportunities fund known as the 21st Century Challenge Fund also makes grant dollars available for small analytical or pilot demonstration projects that support the program's key components.

According to James M. Herman, associate dean of primary care and professor and chair of the Department of Family and Community Medicine, the College of Medicine has been a good home for the Southern Rural Access Program because of its experience in leadership development, primary care infrastructure building and managed care.

Independent assessment of the program by staff at the University of Southern Maine's Edmund S. Muskie School of Public Service found that in Phase I the program had demonstrated highly successful implementation of program components; developed impressive partnerships with a wide range of government, community and philanthropic entities; impacted policy-making; and had secured significant ownership by its stakeholders.