HHS announces $750,000 in funding to develop rural Texas residency program

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced last week that the University of Texas Health Science Center at Tyler (UTHSCT) will receive $750,000 in grant funding as part of the Rural Residency Planning and Development Program (RRPD).

The funding will be used by UTHSCT over three years to develop a new rural residency program while achieving accreditation through the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education. The funding comes as part of $20 million awarded to 21 different states by HHS.

RRPD is a program aimed at creating new rural residency programs in family medicine, internal medicine, and psychiatry, and supporting the expansion of the physician workforce in rural areas. Recipients of the awards across the entire county include hospitals, community health centers, tribal organizations, and schools of medicine.

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The program is administered by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) and is one of a series of health care workforce programs in their Bureau of Health Workforce.

“The health challenges in rural America are clear: rural communities face a greater risk of poor health outcomes than their urban counterparts,” said HRSA Administrator George Sigounas, MS, Ph.D., in a press release. “Programs like the Rural Residency Planning and Development grants take aim at one of the most persistent disparities: access to high quality healthcare providers. HRSA is committed to increasing the number of providers serving rural communities and improving health in rural America.”

UTHSCT will put their funding toward developing a rural training track in psychiatry to address Northeast Texas’s shortage of mental health practitioners.  

According to the university, 1.5 million people live in Northeast Texas and 58% of them live in rural areas. Within that part of the state, more than half of the counties either have no practicing psychiatrist, or have a psychiatrist-to-population ratio exceeding 1:2500. The university also reports that Northeast Texas has a suicide rate of 17.5 per 100,000 population – higher than the state rate of 12.2 per 100,000.

“The mental health challenges in this region are very evident. Most of our counties do not have access to mental health services; we want to change that,” said Dr. Kirk A. Calhoun, president of The University of Texas Health Science Center at Tyler in a prepared statement. “We felt it was very important that we step up and help resolve these problems within our community and the state. Our emphasis on behavioral health has afforded us to become the principal provider for behavioral health services in this region. Now, with the HRSA grant, we are continuing to expand our reach into rural communities to address mental health concerns in a very significant way.”

The new rural training track will begin interviewing candidates in 2020.