Rural Health Care Partnership would focus on the critical areas of mental health, maternal health and primary care, and substance use
Monday, September 18, 2023

The University of Iowa is seeking state funding to expand its health care presence to rural parts of the state that are challenged in finding providers and other experts to treat and care for a rapidly aging population.

The five-year, $50 million Rural Health Care Partnership is part of the university’s broader state funding request to be considered by the Board of Regents, State of Iowa, at its meeting in September.

The university is seeking $10 million a year to build a health care workforce pipeline to:

  • Expand access to screening (medical testing) and training across the state.
  • Expand telehealth in rural communities.
  • Develop incentives for recruiting and retaining health care workers throughout Iowa.

“Our goal is to improve health care outcomes for Iowans, especially rural Iowans who may be struggling to find specialized care due to a lack of providers and facilities,” says UI President Barbara Wilson. “With additional state funding, the University of Iowa can leverage its expertise to help address these challenges.”

The Rural Health Care Partnership would focus on the critical areas of mental health, maternal health and primary care, and substance use.

  • Mental health

Access to mental health resources is a significant issue for Iowans: 89 of the state’s 99 counties have been designated a Health Professional Shortage Area (HPSA) for mental health. With funding from the state, the UI would focus on graduating more advanced registered nurse practitioners (ARNP) and clinical mental health counselors to provide mental health care in the state, as well as training and supporting nonclinician mental health supporters.

In addition, through its Scanlan Center for School for Mental Health, the UI would deliver mental health services to at least 80% of the state’s K-12 schools per year.

  • Maternal health and primary care

Access to both maternal health services and primary care is declining across rural Iowa. An HPSA for primary care has been designated in 52 Iowa counties and, since 2000, 31 counties have lost their birthing centers (from 77 to 46 counties). As a result, there has been a substantial decline in health care access across primarily rural Iowa communities that at the same time are experiencing an increase in mortality rates.

With funding from the state, the UI would train more new primary care ARNPs each year, provide statewide training in pregnancy-related emergencies, and improve the ability of local health care staff and hospitals to triage, stabilize, and prepare pregnant patients for transfer.

  • Substance use

During the past three years, Iowa has experienced a 30% increase in alcohol-, opioid-, and methamphetamine-associated deaths. Compounding the issue, more than 50% of Iowans struggling with addiction issues also have major mental illnesses.

In addition to opioid and other substance use, alcohol-involved deaths increased by more than 73% in Iowa between 2008 and 2019, with men aged 45 and older being twice as likely as women in that age group[WTL1] to die of an alcohol-related death.

With funding from the state, the UI would provide training and telehealth consultation to primary care physicians and nurse practitioners on treatment of coexisting substance use and mental disorders, support the recovery of 3,000 Iowans, and develop a statewide opioid overdose dashboard.

Board of Regents seeks $4.5 million increase in general state aid for UI in FY25

The annual appropriations request also includes a $4.5 million increase in general education funding to help cover inflationary increases for information technology hardware and software, utilities, fuel, collectively bargained wages, and personnel costs. Additional state funding is necessary to:

  • Keep tuition affordable and provide competitive student financial aid.
  • Improve student success in high-demand degree programs by providing tutoring, supplemental instruction, career guidance, and academic advising.
  • Better support online programs for place-bound students across the state. 
  • Provide advanced career training for working professionals.
  • Maintain competitive compensation plans.

Board approval is the first in a multistep process for state funding. If approved by the board, it will make the request to the Iowa Legislature when it convenes in January.