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BCH awarded grant to help pay PA's student loans

May 25, 2023

By Audrey Dutton
Idaho Capital Sun

People travel to Boundary Community Hospital from across a region of remote, underserved rural towns in North Idaho. The hospital has one rural health clinic to provide primary care and basic mental health care. “Our organization has very limited funding and resources, making recruitment and retention of providers in this area very challenging,” hospital officials wrote recently in an application for a grant that helps rural health care providers pay off their student loans.

The hospital has gone through “huge turnover,” losing its medical director and nurse practitioner, they wrote. The only health care provider left to see patients at the clinic, they wrote, was a physician assistant who faced the financial burden of student loans.

That physician assistant is now one of 16 health care providers to receive a federally funded grant toward their student loans, the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare announced Tuesday.

The program will give educated medical professionals a financial incentive to stay in Idaho, where data shows that nearly every county is in severe need of health care and mental health providers.

The grantees include:
  • Three psychologists who work in Blackfoot, including in the state-owned behavioral health hospital
  • Two psychiatrists who provide care in Boise
  • Nurse practitioners who work in Soda Springs and Montpelier, where the isolation and harsh weather make it hard to hire and keep providers
  • A longtime doctor at the critical access hospital in Salmon

“Our facility is facing staffing shortages across the board,” the application from Soda Springs’ Caribou Memorial Hospital said. “Any retention incentive we are able to offer clinicians is very helpful to retain these crucial staff members.”

The awards come from the State Loan Repayment Program, which offers up to $50,000 in repayment aid toward student loans (up to $25,000 a year for two years). The program is intended as an incentive for health professionals to stay in communities that otherwise would have few, or no, health care providers.

To qualify for the federally funded program, health care providers must not be receiving loan repayment assistance through another program. They also must be working 40 hours per week, 45 weeks per year, at a hospital, clinic or other setting where Medicare and Medicaid are accepted, and low-income and uninsured patients can pay based on a sliding fee scale.

“Idaho’s rural health care workforce serves vulnerable populations and is often located hours from the nearest urban centers,” the department’s Rural Health and Primary Care Bureau Chief Gina Pannell said in a news release about the grants. “This can make it challenging to recruit and retain qualified clinicians. The State Loan Repayment Program helps provide Idahoans with access to services closer to home.”

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