Baton Rouge – The Department of Health announced today two grant awards totaling more than $56 million to aid in restoring access to health care in Katrina-impacted communities.  The grants were awarded through the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

The “Professional Workforce Supply Grant,” worth $35 million, will go toward recruiting and retaining licensed health care professionals for the Greater New Orleans area, which is still experiencing extreme shortages of care workers.  These funds will bolster an existing grant already in place for the same purpose, which created the Greater New Orleans Health Service Corps program.  With this new funding, the state hopes to attract 600 more health care professionals for employment.

The four parishes targeted by this grant are Orleans, Jefferson, St. Bernard and Plaquemines.  The federal funds will be used to attract the services of physicians (including pediatricians, internists, family practitioners, obstetricians and psychiatrists), dentists, registered nurses (including nurse practitioners), physician assistants, and other licensed professional health care staff.  The grant money will be split evenly between recruitment and retention.

 “With these funds, we can further our goal of restoring Louisiana’s health care system to full capacity,” said LDH Secretary Dr. Fred Cerise.  “When doctors and nurses receive grant money through the Greater New Orleans Service Corps, they agree to work in the state for three years.  This long-term employment is a necessary component to sustaining the system’s workforce.”

The “Provider Stabilization Grant,” worth $26.2 million, will be used to make payments to health care facilities to ease the financial burdens experienced with rising operating costs as a result of Hurricane Katrina.  This grant will benefit hospitals, inpatient psychiatric facilities, community mental health centers and skilled nursing facilities in the 31 parishes affected by Hurricane Katrina, as designated by FEMA. 

A total of 287 facilities are set to receive funding from this grant to offset their increased operating costs.  The state was directed to make payments to all of the above-mentioned facilities that are currently paid under a Medicare prospective payment system and are located in a Katrina-impacted community.

“These payments will enable our health care facilities to continue operating and caring for patients,” explained Dr. Cerise.  “Since Katrina, hospitals have had difficulty hiring and retaining staff due to changes in wage rates among employers competing for health care workers.  This grant will help offset those increased costs until the change in wage rates can be reflected in Medicare payment methodologies in 2009.”

Both grants are effective immediately and have been approved through September 30, 2009.