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How is rural philanthropy responding to COVID-19? Under the radar.

By on March 23, 2021 0

While the many efforts of donors in response to COVID-19 have been rightly recognized, the work of those responding to the COVID-19 crisis in rural communities is less well known. Rural cases continue to grow at a faster rate than urban cases – and as in urban areas, the impacts are disproportionate on rural communities of color.

There are a number of rural-focused funders who have recognized the responsibility of philanthropy to elevate and financially support the needs of these communities in a way that anticipates continued long-term commitment, whether supporting rural health care, advocacy, communications, or anything else along the convergence of rural community health and ensuring rural community sustainability. Here are some examples.

Foundation efforts

the Maine Health Access Foundation (MeHAF) is one of the largest health funders in Maine, America’s most rural state. Barbara Leonard, President and CEO of MeHAF, reported in an email that the foundation began its rapid response actions by asking, “As we plan our response, what organizations need to be there on the other side. of this crisis? How can we best help them survive? The first wave of MeHAF funding included directed general operational support focused on strengthening organizations in key infrastructure areas that are not likely to receive federal funding, such as mental and oral health, as well as grants rapid response to support organizations with immediate technical and operational needs, such as capacity and technology for telehealth, Leonard said. These grants included funding from the five tribal governments of Maine. In the first four weeks, MeHAF was able to disburse more than $1.1 million through 84 grants, she noted.

A first accent of Missouri Health Foundation (MFH) has been to ensure that rural Missourians receive accurate and consistent public health messaging. “With public health officials at the heart of the rapidly evolving pandemic response in our communities, we knew we needed to make it easy for local public health agencies to disseminate factual information about what the public could do. to protect themselves,” Courtney Stewart, MFH’s vice president of strategic communications, said in an email. The foundation recognized the importance of trusted messengers “as well as consistency in what people living in adjacent communities were hearing and reading.” Working with a task force of local public health professionals, a campaign was developed that includes radio, print and social media presence, as well as plug-and-play materials. regularly updated for use by local public health agencies.

In East Texas, the Episcopal Health Foundation (EHF), which serves Houston and more than 50 rural counties, has made available $3 million in grant funds to help realign recipients’ efforts to meet health needs to adapt to the COVID reality. -19 like telehealth capacity building, Elena Marks, president and CEO, told me. Additionally, as part of the EHF COVID-19 grant application, the foundation inquired about other types of support applicants need to maintain business continuity. EHF has learned that small rural non-profit organizations need technical assistance to apply for financial support from government and foundations in the form of loans and grants. To meet these needs, the EHF has engaged consultants to work with these partners.

An additional concern has been the health implications of social isolation in communities in the EHF funding area, Marks said. With 155 partner Episcopal congregations, many in rural areas, the EHF has taken up the issue to provide guidance on how congregations can address social isolation by integrating this concern into their existing work.

Federal and State level efforts and more

On the federal side, funding for the rural response to COVID-19 has included $10 billion for rural hospitals, $500 million for tribal health care, and a variety of other supports for qualified rural health centers across the country. federal level, rural clinics and rural telehealth, according to the Federal Office for Rural Health Policy.

State rural health offices are the major program funders and implementers. For example, the South Carolina Bureau of Rural Health (SCORH) The COVID-19 response has included helping providers implement telehealth solutions, securing and providing personal protective equipment, helping community coalitions distribute healthy food, and partnering with the state health department and others to set up rural testing sites.

In South Carolina, rural communities make up more than 84% of the land mass, according to SCORH, and 27% of the population lives in a rural area. “We had to change the way we provide technical support,” said Graham Adams, CEO of SCORH. “Our staff normally spend a lot of time in rural practices, hospitals and communities, but due to COVID-19 we have had to switch to offering this support remotely,” he said in an email. . He added that SCORH staff spent a lot of time helping claimants make sure they have access to all federal and state aid to which they are entitled.

Teryl Eisinger, CEO of National Organization of State Rural Health Officesobserved, “Helping rural communities and healthcare providers get what they need during this pandemic is a challenge in every state. Rural communities are innovating and “scaling up to meet the needs of their citizens, small businesses and local communities.” [health care] suppliers.”

the North Carolina Healthcare Foundation Fill the Gap Response Fund recently made its first round of 19 grants for $1.6 million with a focus on rural communities and frontline workers not receiving other private or public support. This first round of grants included support for farmworker health and social service organizations, youth programs serving rural communities of color, and support for rural emergency medical services. The fund is supported by many private donors. the State Employees Credit Union Foundationthe Duke’s Endowmentand the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust are among those who make major donations.

Look forward

The story of the impact of COVID-19 on rural America continues to unfold – whether it’s the devastation of Native American communities in the Southwest, the weakening of an already rural health system fragile, technical challenges related to the provision of broadband services or the social isolation of rural elderly people. .

With fewer government and non-profit resources currently available, rural funders are not only particularly vital because of their role in the immediate response, but also, and above all, because they help rural communities cope. with longer-term consequences. The deep connectivity of rural funders to the long-term community is key to their philanthropic impact.

Related reading

The theme for the December 2019 issue of Health Affairs was rural health. Read the table of contents. Read the GrantWatch column by Lee L. Prina, “Foundation Funding To Improve Rural Health Care.”