Kelly, Durbin Urge HRSA to Include Maricopa, Cook County Jails as Eligible Sites Under the National Health Service Corps Workforce Program

Senator Mark Kelly (D-AZ) and Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) urged the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) to explore flexibilities to enable Maricopa County Correctional Health in Arizona and Cook County Jail in Illinois to participate as eligible sites under the National Health Service Corps (NHSC). Under current law, doctors, nurses, dentists, and behavioral health care providers can obtain loan repayment under the NHSC for service in a federal or state prison.

The Senators wrote, “Given the unique circumstances and challenges associated with providing health care in a correctional facility, county-run jails face significant barriers to recruitment of qualified health professionals. While federal and state correctional facilities are eligible for the scholarship and loan repayment incentives afforded by the NHSC, a 1989 federal regulation narrowed eligibility to exclude county jails. In that rule, HRSA acknowledges a comment indicating that facilities serving major metropolitan areas often operate in lieu of state facilities, to which HRSA replied, ‘The Department recognizes this problem and will consider case-by-case exceptions for large correctional facilities in major metropolitan areas.’”

Health care services provided in jails are essential. Studies show that the risk of overdose shortly after release from incarceration is at least 10 times greater than the overdose risk to the general population. In 2019, the hepatitis C-related death rate for incarcerated individuals was more than double the rate of the overall population. The COVID-19 pandemic has also further demonstrated the acute risk of infectious disease transmission in jails.

The Senators continued, “Congress has made historic recent investments in the NHSC’s funding levels and is poised to do so again with the upcoming reauthorization of the NHSC’s mandatory funding stream. Given this new funding and the unique circumstances at such large county jails, we urge HRSA’s flexibility in considering eligibility for these county-run correctional facilities.”

Text of the letter can be found here.