Evaluating the Rural Health Network Development Planning Grant Program

Research center:
Project funded:
September 2020
Project completed:
October 2021

It has long been demonstrated that access to timely, appropriate health care is more limited in rural areas. There are a number of reasons for the heightened access barriers faced by rural residents, including higher poverty levels and lower insurance rates, health care workforce shortages, and generally further distances to travel to access care. Regardless of the challenges themselves, addressing barriers to accessing high quality, essential health care services is vital in order to ensure that rural residents live full, healthy lives.

Strong health care networks may improve access to vital services across a full spectrum of care for individuals living in rural areas. Networks may lessen the resource and capacity strain felt by smaller rural hospitals and clinics, allowing for shared resources and collaboration across a wider array of key players. Because robust health care networks can take substantial time and resources to form, the Federal Office of Rural Health Policy offers the Rural Health Network Development Planning Grant. The goal of this grant is to assist rural communities, particularly those that do not have a history of formal collaborative efforts, in the development of an integrated health care network.

This project identified the barriers to and facilitators of success in implementing this grant, as well as the long-term sustainability of grantee efforts. As the U.S. health care landscape looks increasingly at different ways of funding services and focus shifts toward value-based payment systems and an emphasis on preventive care, the need for strong networks has become even more apparent. This project has implications for both future grant program offerings, as well as other policies or programs that support health care in rural areas at the local level.