HONOLULU — A new University of Hawaii center is focusing on the health care workforce, health equity and other challenges affecting rural health care in Hawaii.
The Rural Health Research & Policy Center, funded with a $1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Health Resources and Services Administration, opened in September.
“Hawaii faces unique challenges as a non-contiguous state with multiple islands, such as problems with accessing health care for residents especially on neighbor islands, provider shortages and underrepresentation of Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders in the health care workforce,” said principal investigator Aimee Grace, director of the UH System Office of Strategic Health Initiatives. “While many of these issues impacting rural health in Hawaii are well known, a critical gap has been translating these challenges into specific policy solutions that are actionable and evidence-based.”
Among the center’s short-term priorities are improving Medicare payments and making federal designations, such as the Health Professional Shortage Area scoring system, more reflective of the state’s unique needs.
“The need for far more focused action to close Hawaii’s rural health divide has never been so acute,” said U.S. Rep. Ed Case, D-Hawaii, who along with U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, pushed for funding for the center.
“The University of Hawaii’s new Rural Health Research and Policy Center will play a critical role to address the specific and unique health care needs of Hawaii’s rural communities,” Case said. “I am very pleased that Congress approved my funding request to support the creation of this center and look forward to continuing to work with UH and other key rural health stakeholders in Hawaii to further these efforts.”
The grant will fund the RHRPC for one year with core staff, a partnership award with the Hawaii State Rural Health Association for outreach and stakeholder engagement and subcontracting services. RHRPC also plans to pursue additional funding to maintain its operations going forward.
RHRPC said it collaborates with key rural health partners like the Hawaii State Rural Health Association, the state Office of Primary Care and Rural Health, the Hawaii/Pacific Basin Area Health Education Center and the Pacific Basin Telehealth Resource Center.
The center will also conduct focus groups and site visits across the state to inform its research and policy efforts.
“We want to ensure that RHRPC’s work is aligned overall with the needs of our rural communities and encompasses the concerns and potential solutions from rural health stakeholders from across Hawaii,” said Kelley Withy, co-investigator and director of the Hawaii/Pacific Basin Area Health Education
Michael Tsai covers local and state politics for Spectrum News Hawaii.