Southern Rural Access Program

An RWJF National Program

Dates of Program: July 1997 to August 2009

Field of Work: Increasing access to health care in rural, underserved areas of eight Southern states.

Problem Synopsis: Rural Americans experience significant health disparities compared with people living in metropolitan areas. As noted in the Institute of Medicine's 2005 report on rural health (Quality Through Collaboration: The Future of Rural Health), rural populations tend to be older and have poorer health behaviors, including higher rates of smoking and obesity. They also tend to have less education, income, employment and health insurance coverage than urban residents. Isolated and with limited educational and economic opportunities, many rural communities have difficulty attracting and retaining health care professionals.

Synopsis of the Work: The Southern Rural Access Program worked in eight states (Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, East Texas and West Virginia). The program developed a cadre of students in the health professions committed to practicing in rural areas; recruited primary care providers to rural communities and retained them; supported collaborative networks of rural health providers; and developed revolving loan funds to help rural health providers finance improvements in their practices.

Key Results

  • The program's recruitment and retention efforts had a positive effect on the growth of the primary care physician supply in 124 targeted high-poverty rural counties in the eight states, according to a program evaluation.

  • The program helped strengthen the region's health infrastructure by supporting the development of rural health networks. Twenty-three networks received funding or technical assistance through the state grantee organizations or national program office.

  • Seven revolving loan funds supported by the program helped finance millions of dollars in improvements for rural health providers, including the construction of new facilities, office renovations and equipment purchases.

  • The program established collaborative relationships among and within the participating states that continued to benefit the region after the program ended.