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UAB receives grant to help improve healthcare access in rural Alabama

(WBRC)
Published: Oct. 4, 2021 at 7:39 PM CDT
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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WBRC) - The University of Alabama at Birmingham has been awarded a grant to help improve access to healthcare in the state’s rural communities.

The initial grant includes $2 million in funding for pre-implementation planning and as much as $3 million upon completion of milestones over the course of time.

The award is part of the CMS Innovation Center’s Community Health Access and Rural Transportation Model, or CHART.

More details about this grant are available in the press release below from UAB:

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – The University of Alabama at Birmingham has been awarded a grant from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services to address disparities in health equity by improving access to quality health care in rural communities. The grant includes $2 million for pre-implementation planning, followed by as much as $3 million upon completion of milestones over the course of six performance periods.

This award is part of the CMS Innovation Center’s Community Health Access and Rural Transformation Model, or CHART.

“This CHART funding will help test whether improving access to telehealth services and access to adequate transportation for those living in rural areas can maintain or improve care quality and lower health care costs,” said Dawson Smith, vice president for Affiliate Operations and Network Development in the UAB Health System. “This is an opportunity for select rural hospitals across Alabama to redesign how care is delivered in rural areas with the ultimate goal of improving access, quality and health outcomes. Eligible hospitals must be located in a rural county or census tract.”

UAB is one of four entities to receive CHART Model funding, along with the State of South Dakota Department of Social Services, the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, and the Washington State Healthcare Authority.

According to CMS, more than 57 million people live in rural communities across the United States, including almost 2 million Alabamians. Rural residents tend to be older with more complicated health needs than their urban counterparts. Within rural areas, Black, Latino and other communities of color experience greater access barriers and disparities in health outcomes. Rural residents may also have limited access to high-speed internet, hindering their ability to leverage online health care information and to participate in remote or telehealth visits with their health care practitioners.

“The CHART Model invests in rural areas by offering technical assistance and support as healthcare facilities implement care delivery reforms to serve their populations,” said Irfan Asif, M.D., chair of the Department of Family and Community Medicine, associate dean for Primary Care and Rural Health in the UAB Heersink School of Medicine and principal investigator for the UAB CHART project. “This can include modernizing infrastructure and using technology to eliminate traditional barriers to care, like distance to specialists or transportation issues. Within the supportive framework of the CHART Model, for example, award recipients can expand telehealth to make it easier for people in rural areas to receive care.”

During the first 15 months of the program, UAB as the lead organization will be responsible for convening an advisory council, establishing partnerships, recruiting hospitals, and jointly developing a transformation plan with the local communities and the participating hospitals.

Smith says the UAB Health System is part of a coalition designed to improve rural health care led by senior leaders at Medicaid, the Alabama Hospital Association, Alabama Department of Public Health and Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Alabama, which provided the impetus to apply for and receive the CHART Model funding.

“The Coalition includes health care stakeholders from across the state,” Smith said. “Our goal with the CHART Model project is to see if we can create a model that will strengthen our rural hospitals and improve overall patient outcomes. If it works, it would be a model that CMS could roll out to other health care facilities in Alabama and around the nation.”

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