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FHC receives $750,000 for rural health effort; program seeks to attract family medicine providers
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FHC receives $750,000 for rural health effort; program seeks to attract family medicine providers

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Family Health Centers, Inc. has received a $750,000 federal grant from the Health Resources and Services Administration to develop a new Rural Residency Program.

The grant “will provide us with the opportunity to explore how we can better train and attract more family medicine providers to serve patients in our rural communities,” FHC Chief Executive Officer Leon A. Brunson, Sr. said.

HRSA awarded approximately $20 million in Rural Residency Planning and Development grants to recipients across 21 states.

The grants will support efforts to develop new rural residency programs while achieving Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education accreditation.

Research shows providers who train in rural communities are most likely to stay in those communities to practice medicine, Brunson said.

“Also, this grant funding will assist us to enhance the pool of long-term practicing providers,” he said.

The Rural Residency Planning and Development Program grant will be utilized as start-up funding for a family medicine residency program at the Family Health Centers, Inc.

The program will be a collaboration between Family Health Centers, Inc., the Regional Medical Center and Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine in Spartanburg.

FHC, RMC and VCOM have come together to form a Graduate Medical Education Consortium to develop the Rural Residency Program in Family Medicine that addresses the primary care workforce shortage and encourages providers to remain in the area to practice upon completion of their graduate medical education.

The Rural Residency Planning and Development program grant will allow the members of the consortium to plan and develop the necessary resident and faculty training curricula and recruitment strategies needed to conduct a high-quality and sustainable rural residency program.

The goal of the program is to train community-based practicing primary care physicians to become leaders in health care transformation and enhance teaching in community-based settings. The program is training primary care instructors who will be prepared to supervise residents.

The consortium will seek to matriculate the first class by July 1, 2023, but no later than the required date of fall 2024.

The anticipated long-term goals of the program are:

• Training and retention of an increased number of physicians in rural, underserved areas, specifically within the health care service region of the consortium partners.

• Improving access to health care for those in rural, underserved areas.

• Improving the quality of care for those in rural, underserved areas.

• Reducing the cost of care for those in rural, underserved areas.

FHC is also preparing to enhance continuing medical education and graduate medical education through the construction of a 12,000-plus square foot training center and telemedicine hub adjacent to the main health center site in Orangeburg.

The training center will include space for live training and will be equipped to provide training in telemedicine outreach as well as distance learning to support the educational needs of the residents.

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The new training center will expand the existing capacity of FHC for telemedicine outreach.

FHC has received distance learning and telemedicine funding to purchase the equipment for the training center from the USDA Rural Development office.

The construction of the training center is scheduled for completion by Dec. 30, 2022.

VCOM goals of the programs are:

• Recruiting students from and educating students in the socioeconomically depressed region of South Carolina.

• Recruiting students with a strong desire to care for medically underserved populations.

• Fostering a desire and commitment in medical students to an enhanced understanding of global health care and disaster medicine.

• Fostering primary care, and health care for medically underserved populations.

• Promoting primary care practices and osteopathic distinctiveness.

• Developing a diverse workforce of physicians who will practice in underserved areas.

• Providing outreach to rural communities and the uninsured.

• Promoting mission medicine.

RMC is a VCOM-affiliated clinical rotation partner and has successfully met all requirements in partnership with VCOM to provide a model medical curriculum and training to VCOM’s third- and fourth-year medical students since 2013.

Clinical rotations are designed to provide a rigorous and broad foundation for primary care medicine, including hands-on experiences in rural and medically underserved areas, through which students gain an appreciation for the many rewards of rural and community-based medicine.

FHC and RMC both serve the rural and medically underserved area that encompasses Orangeburg, Bamberg and Calhoun counties in South Carolina.

Orangeburg and Bamberg counties are designated wholly rural by Federal Office of Rural Health Policy, while half of Calhoun County has a rural designation. The entire area has HRSA Medically Underserved Area and Health Provider Shortage Area designations. The shortage of access to primary care is reflected in significant health disparities, especially among the low income and minority populations of the area.

The geographic area in which the proposed residency program will be located includes Orangeburg, Bamberg, Calhoun and Dorchester counties. The City of Orangeburg, where FHC has its main site, and where RMC is located, will be the base of the residency program.

Both Family Health Centers and RMC are accredited by the Joint Commission, demonstrating that they have met high standards in the quality and safety of the care they provide.

VCOM has established and sustained several primary care residency training programs in small communities since 2008 and has several more programs in process.

In addition, during the last twelve months VCOM has worked with two hospitals, both of which have received approval as a Sponsoring Institution, and one of which has received initial accreditation by the ACGME for an Internal Medicine Program.

A significant percentage of graduates of these programs have established or joined primary care practices in the region in which they trained.

The Rural Residency Planning and Development Program, administered by HRSA’s Federal Office of Rural Health Policy and Bureau of Health Workforce, is a part of a multi-year initiative by HRSA to expand the physician workforce in rural areas by developing new, sustainable residency programs in family medicine, internal medicine, and psychiatry. The recipients of the awards include rural hospitals, community health centers, health centers operated by the Indian Health Service, Indian tribes or tribal organizations, and schools of medicine. The funds will be allocated over a three-year period.

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