Delegate T. Scott Garrett requested that the Joint Commission on Health Care conduct a review of designating the Virginia Rural Health Resource Center (VRHRC) to serve as the State Office of Rural Health (SORH). Delegate Garrett’s letter read, in part:
“Does naming VRHRC as the SORH designated agency require legislative action? Or can this be completed through administrative changes? What are the advantages, disadvantages, benefits and losses of housing the SORH in a non-profit agency rather than a government entity? How effective are other non-profit SORHs (e.g. Colorado Rural Health Center, South Carolina Office of Rural Health), in meeting the needs of their rural communities, and can the services be delivered more effectively in Virginia in such a setting?"
The State Offices of Rural Health program was established in 1991 as a federal-state partnership administered by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) to establish “a focal point within each State for rural health issues…[to provide] an institutional framework that links communities with State and Federal resources to help develop long-term solutions to rural health problems." (www.hrsa.gov/ruralhealth) SORH-grant funding requires a 3-to-1 match of state to federal funds; and the federal funding amount is the same for each state (in FY 2014 federal funding was $172,000 requiring $516,000 in match funding or in-kind contributions). Each state’s SORH-application to HRSA must be approved by a senior official of the state agency overseeing health programs, a process that does not involve legislation or approval by the state legislature.
The Virginia Department of Health (VDH) has administered the SORH throughout the history of the Commonwealth’s participation in the federal program; and in fact, had just received federal approval to continue to administer the State office through 2017 when the study was undertaken. During regional meetings held in Charlottesville, Warsaw, Abingdon, and Blacksburg, a variety of opinions were expressed regarding whether VDH should continue to administer the State office as well as recommendations for improving the support VDH staff provide. After considering the stakeholder opinions and study findings, JCHC members voted to send a letter from the Chair to ask that the Virginia Rural Center convene a workgroup to allow for continuation of the discussion on the needs of rural Virginia, including health care, education, workforce, technology, and economic development with any findings and conclusions to be presented to JCHC by October 2015, if possible.