Project Overview: The South Carolina State Loan Repayment Program (SC SLRP) is designed to address the gaps in access to mental healthcare and disparities in health outcomes between rural and urban areas in South Carolina. This project aims to recruit mental/behavioral health professionals to complete service obligations in rural and underserved areas of the state in exchange for repayment of educational loan debt in amounts of up to $25,000 a year for two years ($50,000 total). Goals & Objectives: Goal 1: Recruit and retain providers to sustain a growing primary healthcare workforce working in health professions shortage areas (HPSAs) within South Carolina; Goal 2: Encourage state level partnership/cooperation with other stakeholders to address/meet South Carolina’s healthcare workforce needs; Goal 3: Increase access to primary care services in underserved communities/populations; Goal 4: Decrease healthcare disparities in underserved communities; and Goal 5: Improve overall healthcare outcomes in underserved communities. Program objectives are: to develop partnerships between academia, primary care delivery sites, Primary Care Associations, Primary Care Offices, Governors’ Offices, Health Departments, and community-based organizations; to increase the primary healthcare workforce serving in HPSAs; and to incentivize providers to serve in HPSAs by offering loan repayment covering eligible educational loans. Project Scope: SC AHEC will establish and administer an educational loan repayment program for mental health professionals working in HPSAs in South Carolina. There will be two program cohorts: cohort 1 will recruit at least 10 mental health professionals at the maximum allowable amount of $25,000 a year for two years and cohort 2 will recruit at least 18 mental health professionals at the maximum allowable amount of $25,000 a year for two years. In the event that qualifying applicants’ loans for either cohort do not equal the maximum
amount award amount, more professionals will be funded until the total available funding for each cohort is expended. SC SLRP will include a comprehensive application process for applicants to ensure that all eligibility requirements for applicants, disciplines and practice sites are met. Additionally, a recurring verification process will monitor progress, loan repayments and eligibility throughout the program to ensure that program requirements are met and service obligations are completed. SC AHEC will establish a SC SLRP Advisory Group to review, score, rank and select participants for the program from health professionals who apply. The SC SLRP Advisory Group will also serve as the formal consulting and advisory body for the entire SC SLRP program including marketing, recruitment, application selection and evaluation. SC AHEC will work closely with a broad set of partners across the state to recruit mental health professionals to the program, including the SC Office of Rural Health, SC Office of Primary Care, SC Primary Health Care Association, Behavioral Health Coalition and many others. Outcomes: At the end of this grant period, a minimum of 28 mental health professionals will be funded to provide mental/behavioral health services in mental health HPSAs in South Carolina. SC AHEC will develop and maintain partnerships with academic institutions, primary care delivery sites, the SC Primary Health Care Association, SC Office of Primary Care, SC Department of Mental Health and other community-based organizations to recruit a competitive applicant pool and incentivize mental health professionals to serve in mental health HPSAs throughout the state. By doing so, this effort could increase access to primary care mental health services in rural and underserved communities, an essential step toward reducing health disparities between rural and urban populations and improving health outcomes.