Improving rural healthcare goal of new UH research and policy center

rural Hawaii neighborhood
In Hawaiʻi, any area outside of Honolulu’s urban core is considered rural.

The University of Hawaiʻi has established a new UH Rural Health Research & Policy Center (RHRPC) with a $1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Health Resources and Services Administration. This funding was championed by U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz and U.S. Rep. Ed Case in the FY22 federal appropriations process.

Launched in September, the new center is focused on improving rural health care challenges in Hawaiʻi through policy-relevant research and actionable, evidence-based strategies and recommendations, specifically on health workforce and health equity.

rural health research and policy center team
The UH Rural Health Research and Policy Center team. From left (sitting): Amy Ma and Reinie Gerrits-Goh, (standing) Chad Wolke and Aimee Malia Grace.

Hawaiʻi 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 Hawaiʻi are well-known, a critical gap has been translating these challenges into specific policy solutions that are actionable and evidence-based.”

In the short term, UH RHRPC plans to focus on areas of priority to the rural health community and related challenges to Hawaiʻi’s health workforce, including improving Medicare payments and making federal designations, such as the Health Professional Shortage Area scoring system, to be more reflective of Hawaiʻi’s unique needs.

“The need for far more focused action to close Hawaiʻi’s rural health divide has never been so acute,” said Congressman Ed Case (HI-01). “The University of Hawaiʻi’s new Rural Health Research and Policy Center will play a critical role to address the specific and unique health care needs of Hawaiʻi’s rural communities. 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 Hawaiʻi to further these efforts.”

New initiative to collaborate with health partners

The center will collaborate with key rural health partners, including the Hawaiʻi State Rural Health Association, the State of Hawaiʻi Office of Primary Care and Rural Health, the Hawaiʻi/Pacific Basin Area Health Education Center and the Pacific Basin Telehealth Resource Center. Focus groups and site visits to impacted regions across the state and with key stakeholders will provide the Center with critical information to support its research and policy efforts.

The need for far more focused action to close Hawaiʻi’s rural health divide has never been so acute.
U.S. Rep. Ed Case

“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 Hawaiʻi,” said Kelley Withy, co-investigator and director of the Hawaiʻi/Pacific Basin Area Health Education Center at the John A. Burns School of Medicine.

The grant will fund RHRPC for one year with core staff, a partnership award with the Hawaiʻi State Rural Health Association for outreach and stakeholder engagement, and subcontracting services as needed to fulfill key research needs. RHRPC also plans to pursue grants and additional funding opportunities to ensure ongoing sustainability of the center.

“As Hawaiʻi’s only public institution of higher education, UH and its health sciences programs play an essential role in educating the health care workforce of the state and region and addressing health challenges. RHRPC has a critical role in advancing research and policy solutions to improve health for rural communities in Hawaiʻi, and we sincerely thank Sen. Schatz and Rep. Case for their support of the establishment of this Center,” said Grace.


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