Washington,DC— U.S. Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) today joined Sens. Doug Jones (D-Ala.) and Tina Smith (D-Minn.) to introduce the bipartisan Rural Health Liaison Act. This legislation would improve coordination among the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and other health care stakeholders through the creation of a rural health liaison. This legislation is supported by the National Rural Health Association.
“Making sure all South Dakotans, including those in rural areas who live far away from a major hospital or clinic, have access to the same quality of care as those living in big cities is a priority of mine,” said Rounds. “Creating a position within USDA that is solely focused on improving health care in rural areas will help us address the unique health challenges facing our small, sparsely-populated communities. It will also help bridge gaps between USDA and other federal agencies like HHS.”
“As the rural hospital closure crisis and the opioid epidemic escalate in rural America, we need to seek new ways to help struggling rural economies and increase opportunities for rural patients and providers,” said Alan Morgan, CEO, National Rural Health Association. “USDA has experience with working to keep struggling hospitals from closing and is the home to a number of programs critical in providing telehealth services and other rural health resources. Now more than ever, we need a Rural Health Liaison at the USDA to ensure better coordination and streamlining of rural health programs.”
USDA plays a significant role in federal rural development efforts. The agency has the capability to finance the construction of hospitals, to implement telehealth programs, and carry out health education initiatives. The Rural Health Liaison Act would establish a rural health liaison to make sure USDA is fully coordinated and leveraged with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as well as other important stakeholders.
Under the Rural Health Liaison Act, the newly established Rural Health Liaison would:
- Consult with HHS on rural health issues and improve communication with all federal agencies;
- Provide expertise on rural health care issues;
- Lead and coordinate strategic planning on rural health activities within the USDA; and,
- Advocate on behalf of the health care and relevant infrastructure needs in rural areas.