Tennessee Task Force Report Offers Policy to Improve Rural Health Care

Milbank State Leadership Network
Focus Area:
State Health Policy Leadership
Rural Health

In June, the Tennessee Rural Health Care Task Force formed by Governor Bill Lee and co-chaired by Milbank Memorial Fund National Director of Population Health, Morgan McDonald, MD, and Lifepoint CEO David Dill released a report with 13 evidence-based policy recommendations to improve access to care, recruit and sustain the health care workforce, and address social drivers of health for the state’s rural residents. Task Force members spent a year reviewing best practices and meeting with local and state programs, providers, and communities to identify opportunities for greatest impact.

“The Task Force recommendations are based on what is working within and outside the state and are being put forward by the people who are doing this work every day,” McDonald said. “The recommendations to address the increasingly urgent need for health access and improved outcomes in rural Tennessee are practical and ready for implementation.”

The Task Force comprised 34 public and private stakeholders, including representatives of the General Assembly, the Tennessee Department of Health, the Department of Economic & Community Development, Department of Human Services, Department of Mental Health & Substance Abuse Services, and the state Medicaid program, TennCare, in addition to representatives from large and small health care facilities, payors, patients, and various health professions schools.

The task force’s recommendations included:

  • Establishing a Rural Health Center of Excellence for health providers and communities to offer and coordinate technical assistance, business support for at risk services, and advocacy
  • Funding local communities to address social drivers of health via public-private partnerships
  • Expanding health insurance availability
  • Nearly $140M five-year workforce development investment to include rural medical and behavioral health apprenticeships, loan repayment and recruitment incentives, pipeline educational opportunities from high school through rural community colleges to health professions schools
  • Supporting community health worker sustainability and training
  • Expanding existing loan repayment programs to incentivize providers to practice in rural areas. Implementing closed-loop referral support systems and support for implementing community agencies to enhance non-medical service coordination

The report includes a five-year budget request and legislative agenda items to improve access to health care services and improve health outcomes for people living in rural Tennessee.

According to McDonald, the Task Force demonstrated both collaboration and consensus building between different stakeholder groups and a commitment to improving rural health in the state. “Governor Lee and the Tennessee General Assembly have been strong supporters of rural communities,” she said. “These recommendations, when implemented in collaboration with state agency leads and local communities, will be an evidence-based investment with generational impact.”

Read a summary of the report or the full report.