May 13, 2021

USD Part of Grant Program to Address Rural Health Care Workforce Shortages

The University of South Dakota Sanford School of Medicine and the Department of Family Medicine will provide behavioral health education to health care professionals throughout the state as part of a three-initiative grant program awarded to the West River Area Health Education Center (WRAHEC), located in Rapid City. 

The WRAHEC will receive $2.5 million in funding from the Department of Labor H-1B Rural Health Care Grant Program to address rural health care workforce shortages in communities across the country.

The aim of this funding is to increase the number of individuals training in health care occupations that directly impact patient care, and to alleviate health care workforce shortages by creating sustainable employment and training programs in health care occupations, including behavioral and mental health care, serving rural populations.

Stephanie Mayfield, executive director of the WRAHEC, began discussions with USD and the city of Redfield in October 2020 about the grant opportunity and how it could positively impact rural health care across the state. “We are honored to have been selected as one of 17 grantees across the country to participate in this Department of Labor grant program,” said Mayfield.

Bridget Diamond-Welch, Ph.D., the associate director of the Center for Rural Health Improvement in the Department of Family Medicine, provided technical assistance and evaluation for the project.

“We are excited to partner with WRAHEC on a project that will do so much to improve the health of our communities and strengthen our rural health care workforce,” said Diamond-Welch.

While applying for this grant, the WRAHEC started a collaboration called Rural Health Works SD to ensure key health care shortages across South Dakota could be addressed. The Rural Health Works SD grant program is comprised of three initiatives.

The first initiative outlines behavioral health education. USD will host an annual behavioral health conference each August and provide continuing education credits to South Dakota health care professionals over four years. In addition, they will continue to host the South Dakota Rural Health Equity Summit each September, in which rural providers gather to prioritize issues found across South Dakota. This past September, the event identified two top needs: lack of trained first responders in the East River region and behavioral health issues across the state. 

The second initiative addresses the shortage of emergency medical technicians, paramedics and nursing assistants in the East River region of the state and is led by the city of Redfield and Dr. Matt Owens of the Community Memorial Hospital. They will use the funding to train 94 people as first responders, 192 as certified nursing assistants (CNA) and work to have 12 people join the paramedic apprenticeship program in eastern South Dakota.

The third initiative works to address nursing shortages in western South Dakota. The WRAHEC is working on a marketing plan, referral tools and training for its many referral partners. The goals are to upskill currently unemployed, underemployed or incumbent workers into, or through, a nursing pathway. 

For more information about the WRAHEC, contact Stephanie Mayfield at 605-718-4077 or Stephanie.mayfield@bhsu.edu.