Goverment allots $33 million to train health professionals

Missouri colleges will get about $67,000.

Federal stimulus money amounting to $33 million will be awarded to colleges and universities across the nation, the federal government announced Wednesday. Four Missouri colleges will split about $67,000 of that money to provide scholarships for disadvantaged students.

The money will come from the $500 million the Department of Health and Human Services was given under the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act of 2009, the stimulus package passed in February, to increase the number of nurses and primary care physicians practicing.

Kathleen Sebelius, U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services, and Health Resources and Services Administrator Mary Wakefield announced the money would be distributed through six programs. The programs aim to increase scholarships available to disadvantaged and minority students and encourage students to work in primary care and public health fields.

Sebelius said as many as 65 million Americans lack access to regular primary care physicians because of both the cost of health care and the shortage of general practice physicians. Wakefield said such numbers are the reason more funding is needed.

“The current health care workforce is simply inadequate to help us meet our growing health care needs,” Wakefield said.

Sebelius said increasing the number of health care workers would impact the debate for overall health insurance reform because she said increasing the availability of preventive primary care would drive down costs of patients who let problems grow into emergencies that require dramatic and expensive treatment.

“One of the things going on right now is that people without health insurance are accessing health care, usually through the doors of emergency rooms,” Sebelius said. “That creates a large burden on everybody.”

HHS has allotted about $200 million of stimulus money it received. Friday’s funding follows an Aug. 12 announcement of $13.4 million in stimulus funds for loan repayments to nurses who agree to practice in facilities with critical shortages and for schools of nursing to provide loans to students who will become nurse faculty.

Wakefield said in addition to increasing the number of workers in the health care system, the money will be used to increase the use of medical technology, like digital patient records and to motivate doctors to practice in rural states and outlying areas where distance, in addition to cost, deters patients from seeking care.

“Much of the funding made available will go to people from underserved communities,” she said. “Those are the very individuals who are most likely to go back to those underserved communities and practice.”

But a state-by-state breakdown on the HHS Web site shows the funds were not distributed evenly among all 50 states. The biggest winners were New York, California and Georgia, all of which received more than $3 million each. Several states, like New Hampshire, Vermont and Wyoming, received no money.

Of the $67,000 in scholarships allotted for Missouri, MU will get $24,144. University of Missouri - Kansas City, Avila University in Kansas City and Cox College in Springfield also received funds to provide scholarships to disadvantaged students.

Kristofer Hagglund, associate dean of the MU School of Health Professions, said the school was looking forward to using the new money to provide scholarships for which students could apply.

“We’re thrilled and we’re definitely going to pursue it,” Hagglund said.

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