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Rural healthcare orgs in Arizona awarded $5.1M in USDA grants

A dozen health care organizations in Arizona will share $5.1 million in federal grants as part the American Rescue Plan Act, passed last year under the Biden administration.

The program will include efforts to help rural hospitals and healthcare providers implement telehealth and nutrition assistance programs, increase staffing, build or renovate facilities, and purchase medical supplies. The programs will also improve COVID-19 testing for rural communities and back two food banks, including one at the new Center for Sustainable Agriculture in Ajo.

The largest sum went to the Gila River Health Care Corp, which received $1 million, while the Regional Center for Border Health Inc. in Somerton, just south of Yuma near the Colorado River, received three separate grants for COVID-19 testing.

Managed by USDA's Rural Development, the program is designed to send as much as $500 million in funding across the U.S. to broaden access to COVID-19 testing and vaccines, give technology and other aid to rural health care services, and back food assistance through food banks and food distribution facilities in rural areas. 

As USDA put it, rural health care was "challenged by immediate financial needs stemming from COVID-19 related expenses," and long-term access to rural health care services were "further hampered as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic." USDA's program created two grant tracks for rural health care organizations: the first provided "immediate" relief, while the second track seeks to "solve regional rural health care problems."

USDA's Rural Development Under Secretary Xochitl Torres Small announced the funding on April 18 while on the Gila River Nation, southwest of Phoenix.

"No matter where you live, people deserve good health care, and the Biden-Harris Administration is committed to making that a reality throughout rural America," Torres Small said. She thanked U.S. Rep. Tom O’Halleran, adding that through the Emergency Rural Health Care Grants Program, USDA is "improving access to the critical health care services rural people rely on every day here in rural Arizona."

On Wednesday, Arizona Sens. Kyrsten Sinema and Mark Kelly praised the funding, adding that they had "in recent weeks" pushed for more funding for health care in the state, telling Senate leaders in a March 31 letter that the need "for additional relief is dire" especially with the possibility of new variants of COVID-19 "looming."

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"The pandemic shed light on the key role our rural healthcare organizations play in keeping Arizonans healthy and safe. As our state continues to grow, we’ll keep fighting to make sure Arizonans have access to affordable and reliable care regardless of their zip code," Kelly said. Sinema added that Arizona's rural healthcare organizations are "lifelines for under-served communities," adding that the funding will provide "needed resources, staffing, and supplies to keep Arizonans healthy and safe."

Among the awards: 

Steps to Recovery Homes - Cottonwood - $506,000
"This Rural Development investment will be used to help Steps to Recovery, located in Cottonwood, Arizona, add telehealth to its menu of services provided to remote clients across the state. The expanded telehealth menu will be supported by upgrades to information technology, COVID testing, personal protection equipment, and program development. "

Bisbee Hospital Association - Bisbee and Douglas - $831,470
"This Rural Development investment will be used to purchase medical equipment and supplies to increase medical surge capacity during the ongoing challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic in Bisbee and Douglas, Arizona, and surrounding communities."

Black Canyon Community Health Center, Inc. - Yavapai and Maricopa counties - $31,827
"This Rural Development investment will be used to purchase equipment and make fiberoptic upgrades for telecommunications equipment. This will enable the health center to expand telehealth services during the COVID-19 pandemic. The health center serves rural patients in underserved communities in Yavapai and Maricopa counties."

Gila River Health Care Corp. - Gila River Reservation - $1,000,000
"This Rural Development investment will be used to broaden access to COVID-19 testing and lab services for Gila River Health Care patients and employees on the Gila River Reservation."

White Mountain Communities Hospital, Inc. - Springerville - $435,625
"This Rural Development investment will be used to purchase medical devices and equipment. The new materials will enable the hospital to increase COVID-19 testing and vaccinations and increase bed capacity during COVID-19 surges."

Regional Center for Border Health, Inc. $268,300 - Somerton
"This Rural Development investment will be used to purchase five modular mobile units, equipment, supplies and furnishings, and add staffing to support COVID vaccines and testing for clients in the region of the Colorado River Indian Tribe."

Regional Center for Border Health, Inc. - Somerton - $373,200
"This Rural Development investment will be used to purchase equipment and provide training for a comprehensive, integrated primary and behavioral telehealth clinic for individuals being treated for COVID-19 in Yuma and La Paz counties."

Regional Center for Border Health, Inc. - Somerton - $358,500
"This Rural Development investment will be used to purchase two modular mobile units, equipment, supplies, and add staffing to provide COVID-19 testing, vaccines and primary care services to the medically underserved residents in Parker in La Paz County, Dateland in Yuma County, and in other outlying areas."

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Community Hospital Association, Inc. - Wickenburg - $397,500
"This Rural Development investment will be used to purchase a mobile medical unit to provide COVID-19 testing and vaccines at community centers, businesses, fire stations and schools in and around Wickenburg, Arizona."

Pinal Hispanic Council, Inc. - Coolidge, Eloy, and Douglas - $40,000
"This Rural Development investment will be used to expand telehealth mental health care services. The Council will purchase work stations and essential information technology equipment, and will retrofit conference rooms. The Council offers behavioral health services in Coolidge, Eloy and Douglas, Arizona.

Community Food Bank, Inc. - San Carlos Apache Reservation - $54,000
This Rural Development investment will be used to purchase a 26- foot refrigerated truck to support the distribution and storage of food and commodities for the most vulnerable residents in the Bylas, Fort Thomas, San Carlos, and other smaller communities of the San Carlos Apache Reservation.

Ajo Center for Sustainable Agriculture - Ajo - $875,838
"This Rural Development investment will be used to help the community open a new food bank. The previous one closed at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Ajo Center for Sustainable Agriculture promotes and supports a sustainable local food system in Ajo, Arizona, and on the Tohono O'odham Nation."

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