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Critical Access Hospitals and the National Health Service Corps

Recruiting providers to your Critical Access Hospital (CAH) – or keeping them there – may be easier if the provider knows they could receive up to $60,000 to pay off their school loans, in addition to receiving a salary. National Health Service Corps (NHSC) approved sites can make that offer. And any CAH in a Health Professional Shortage Area (HPSA) is eligible – and encouraged – to apply to become an NHSC-approved site as part of a new pilot program announced by the White House Rural Council in 2011.

Since CAHs became eligible for the NHSC program in October, 66 have become approved sites. And 6 CAH providers are currently receiving loan repayment through the Corps. More than 80 percent of NHSC providers continue to serve in HPSAs after their commitment to the NHSC is complete, providing staff stability now and for the future.

Additional information about the NHSC and how to apply to become an NHSC-approved site follows. With about half of all NHSC providers currently serving in rural areas, the desire to practice in a community like yours is there. We urge you to consider applying even if you don’t have existing vacancies. The opportunity for loan repayment may help you fill a future vacancy.

NHSC and the CAH Pilot Program
As you may know, the NHSC provides loan repayment for primary care providers who have a desire to practice in underserved areas. The NHSC Loan Repayment Program (LRP) offers two levels of funding. In exchange for a two-year full-time service commitment the LRP will provide up to $60,000 to primary care providers practicing at an NHSC-approved site with a HPSA score of 14 or above, and up to $40,000 to those practicing at an NHSC-approved site with a HPSA score of 13 and below. With continued service, providers may be able to pay off all their student loans.
All NHSC LRP participants must practice at an NHSC-approved site. Last August, the Administration announced a new pilot program that would allow primary care clinicians in CAHs to qualify for loan repayment for a period of three years, with an optional extension if NHSC clinicians are serving in the site after the three-year pilot. The pilot allows CAHs to recruit physicians (MD or DO) specializing in family medicine, obstetrics/gynecology, general internal medicine, geriatrics, general pediatrics, and psychiatry; physician assistants (PA) or nurse practitioners (NP) specializing in adult medicine, family medicine, pediatrics, psychiatry, mental and behavioral health, geriatrics, and women’s health; and certified nurse-midwives.

The NHSC LRP program can be used to attract new clinicians to fill existing vacancies. And, qualifying clinicians currently in practice at your CAH can apply for help in paying off their remaining student loans, supporting retention at your site.

Becoming an NHSC Approved Site
In order to offer current and prospective providers loan repayment through the NHSC, you must first apply to become an NHSC service site. Visit http://nhsc.hrsa.gov/sites/becomenhscapprovedsite/ for detailed instructions on how to apply, or to begin the online application process. To qualify, a CAH must be in a Health Professional Shortage Area (HPSA).

In addition to the website, the NHSC Service Site Reference Guide contains further information on site eligibility requirements.

The NHSC can help you recruit and retain qualified health care providers who care about patients living in communities with limited access to care and who choose to work where they are needed most. If you are interested in applying and need additional information, please contact the Customer Care Center at 1-800-221-9393 or gethelp@hrsa.gov.

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