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    Department of Health celebrates Maryland Rural Health Day
    Officials outline top three rural health priorities through the state
    Baltimore, MD (November 17, 2017) – The Maryland Department of Health celebrated Rural Health Day today, along with Lt. Governor Boyd K. Rutherford, the Calvert County Department of Health, and rural health advocates. National Rural Health Day was established in 2011 by the National Organization of State Offices of Rural Health to “Celebrate the Power of Rural” by honoring the selfless, community-minded spirit that prevails in rural America. Governor Larry Hogan signed a proclamation declaring November 17, 2017 as Rural Health Day in Maryland.
    “When Governor Hogan and I were sworn in nearly 3 years ago, we said that under our administration, rural Maryland would no longer be ignored, forgotten, or neglected,” said Lt. Governor Rutherford. “Today, we recognize and honor the selfless, community-minded spirit that is prominent in rural Maryland and call attention to our ongoing commitment to improving rural health, and to addressing the concerns of our rural communities.”
    Maryland recognizes 18 out of 24 jurisdictions as rural. This number includes counties that are both Federally and State designated rural areas. Many of the rural areas throughout Maryland face similar challenges when it comes to health care. The Department of Health is committed to improving access to health care in Maryland’s rural areas and, following a comprehensive review of community needs and initiatives, has identified three priority areas – the opioid epidemic, workforce strategy, and transportation – to address these issues.
    “The Department conducted a six-month review of rural health needs through the state and found similar needs in all of these communities,” said Acting Deputy Secretary for Public Health Services, Dr. Jinlene Chan. “This is an opportunity to bring together state and local level resources to share best practices and work collaboratively to address the unique needs of rural communities.”
    The Department of Health has taken a number of steps to address the top three priority areas.
    Opioid Epidemic
    In 2016, two people, on average, died each day from opioid overdose in the rural counties of Maryland. Access to naloxone, a life-saving drug that reverses opioid drug overdoses, has been expanded through a standing order that allows pharmacies to dispense naloxone to individuals who may be at risk of an overdose or anyone who may be able to help someone who overdoses. Maryland Medicaid began
    reimbursement for federally funded residential substance use treatment and instituted policies reforming the opioid-prescribing process. The new policy requires prior authorization for all high-dose and long-acting opioids issued to Maryland Medicaid recipients. These are just a few of the initiatives the Department of Health has implemented to combat the opioid epidemic.
    Workforce Shortages
    Health Professional Shortage Area designation uses a methodology to identify areas of states with a shortage of primary care physicians, dental and mental health care professionals. In Maryland, 76 percent of all Health Professional Shortage areas are in rural communities. The Department of Health is working to increase providers in rural communities by streamlining incentive programs, including the State Loan Repayment Program, J-1 waiver program, and the preceptor tax credit program.
    The State Loan Repayment Program provides student loan repayment to physicians, physician assistants, and medical residents who practice in a rural area or underserved area of the state for two years. Between 2008 and 2017, 61 physicians have been awarded the State Loan Repayment. That is 25 percent of the total applicants during this time period.
    J-1 VISAs allow physicians to stay in the United States after their training is completed in exchange for working in a rural health or underserved community for three years. From 2008 through 2017, 187 physicians have been posted to rural communities through the J-1 waiver program. That is 70 percent of the total J-1 recommendations from that time period.
    The Preceptor Tax Credit Program is a recruitment and retention incentive that provides Maryland state income tax credit for nurse practitioners and physicians who train students, without compensation, in rural and underserved communities. In 2016, 85% of providers who received this tax incentive were from the rural counties.
    Transportation barriers are a social determinant of health that affects direct access to care. Rural communities face this challenge more than any other communities throughout the state. The Department of Health has organized a charted group to focus on the various means of rural transportation, which includes Non-Emergency Medical Transportation.
    Through the creation of a Rural Health Charter, the Department of Health will continue to monitor rural health community issues and advances. The goal of the Charter is to improve quality and access to health care in rural Maryland, which will be measured through healthcare workforce capacity, transportation improvements, and funding.