Congresswoman Terri Sewell

Representing the 7th District of Alabama

Congresswoman Sewell Introduces Bipartisan Legislation to Protect and Strengthen Rural Health Care Systems

Apr 29, 2016
Press Release
H.R. 5133, the Rural Hospital Enhancement and Long-Term Health (HEALTH) Act of 2016

Washington, DC --Today, Congresswoman Terri A. Sewell (AL-07) joined Rep. Cresent Hardy (NV-04) in introducing H.R. 5133, the bipartisan Rural Hospital Enhancement and Long Term Health (HEALTH) Act of 2016.

The Rural HEALTH Act is a bipartisan effort to protect and strengthen vital services provided in rural America through State Offices of Rural Health and rural hospitals. The bill is designed to reauthorize the State Office of Rural Health program, adjust the USDA Community Facilities Grant Program to increase the maximum grant award for hospitals, and direct the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to submit an annual report to Congress on the state of our nation’s rural health service.

“The growing fragility of rural hospitals, combined with inaccessibility issues and grave health disparities, threatens the economic viability of the most underserved communities in our country. The Alabama State Office of Rural Health (ASORH) provides critical State and Federal resources to develop long-term solutions for residents of our most rural and vulnerable communities,” said Congresswoman Sewell. “ASORH’s recent collaboration with the Veterans Administration to provide mental health care to rural Veterans through telehealth is just one example of how our state organization is an outstanding steward of the federal funding provided through the State Offices of Rural Health Program. As more rural hospitals are being forced to shut their doors and rural health services are being cut, it is my hope Congress will respond by making the revitalization of America’s rural health care infrastructure a top priority and pass the Rural HEALTH Act.”

“More than 30% of America’s rural hospitals are vulnerable to conditions that have caused the closure of 71 facilities since 2010. We have to act now to prevent more families from losing their literal lifelines in times of emergency. The Rural HEALTH Act will help us save rural America’s hospitals,” said Congressman Hardy.

The bill has the support of the Alabama Department of Public Health, the Alabama Rural Health Association, and the National Organization of State Offices of Rural Health (NOSORH), and the American Osteopathic Association.

Dr. Thomas M. Miller, the Alabama State Health Officer, expressed the Department’s support for the legislation, “This legislation is extremely important as it will enable the continuation of the vital services provided by the Alabama State Office of Rural Health (ASORH). Overall, the services provided by the ASORH have had a very positive impact on the health care and quality of life of Alabama’s 1.6 million rural residents.”

In a letter of support, Dale E. Quinney, Executive Director of the Alabama Rural Health Association, said, “The Alabama Rural Health Association strongly supports this legislation that, among other things, will increase sorely needed funding for our State Offices of Rural Health…Past experiences of the State Office of Rural Health Program provide ample evidence that this will be a wise investment that will produce benefits far exceeding the investment.”

Teryl Eisinger, Executive Director National Organization of State Offices of Rural Health (NOSORH) said, “Rural health care systems throughout the country continue to operate in a fragile state.  By reauthorizing the State Office of Rural Health grant program, this bipartisan legislation will help provide improved access to quality health care for the 61 million Americans living in rural areas. NOSORH now calls on the leadership of both parties in the House of Representatives to pass this measure at the earliest opportunity.”

Dr. John W. Becher, President of the American Osteopathic Association said, “Rural hospitals are a critical part of the health care infrastructure, and the closure of these facilities can have a significant negative impact on rural patients’ access to care, as well as a physician’s ability to practice effectively within their community. Your legislation seeks to both protect and strengthen rural hospitals by expanding grant opportunities available to them. These grants will help foster both public and private investment in rural hospitals to promote greater stability for these facilities, and will also support efforts to recruit and retain health care professionals to serve in rural areas. This bill also recognizes the need for proper congressional oversight by ensuring that both Congress and the states are informed by the most recent overview of the state of our nation’s rural health care system.”