IDAHO FALLS, Idaho (KIFI) - The Department of Health and Welfare (DHW) issued grants this month to 16 rural healthcare providers to help repay their student loan debts and retain them in communities where they’re crucial threads in the rural healthcare safety net.
The State Loan Repayment Program at DHW helps repay student loans for nurses, clinicians, and physicians working in federally designated Health Professional Shortage Areas. The 16 providers awarded grants this spring provide healthcare services to an estimated 39,928 Idahoans each year.
While specific needs vary from one community to the next, nearly all of Idaho is designated a Health Professional Shortage Area. Grant recipients are spread across the state, from Boundary County to Caribou County, including 11 counties in all.
“Idaho’s rural healthcare workforce serves vulnerable populations and is often located hours from the nearest urban centers,” Rural Health and Primary Care Bureau Chief Gina Pannell said. “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.”
Comments submitted with grant applications help illustrate the challenges Idaho’s rural healthcare providers face.
“Our facility is facing staffing shortages across the board,” writes Caribou Memorial Hospital, one of 27 critical access hospitals in Idaho. “Any retention incentive we are able to offer clinicians is very helpful to retain these crucial staff members.”
The State Loan Repayment Program’s funding is provided through a federal grant. Participating sites see all patients and must implement a sliding fee scale for low-income and uninsured patients and accept Medicare and Medicaid. Recipients may receive loan repayment awards up to $25,000 per year for two years
A service obligation is required from those selected. Full-time practitioners must work 40 hours per week and 45 weeks per year, and participants already receiving loan repayment and fulfilling a service obligation are not eligible.
Healthcare providers assisted through the program often stay in their communities. Since 2022, 95% of providers in the program have remained in Idaho at least one year after their service obligation end date.
Since 2015, there have been 64 program participants. This year’s class of 16 includes: four doctors, four physician assistants, three nurse practitioners, three psychologists, one pharmacist, and one registered nurse.
For more information about the State Loan Repayment Program, including a list of this year’s recipients, visit HERE.