Vermont's health care system received a boost from Washington to help it hire health care professionals to work in underserved parts of the state.

The federal Health Resources and Services Administration on Wednesday gave $250,000 to the state's loan repayment program, which will be used to erase student debt for providers who take jobs with Vermont's federally qualified health centers or rural health clinics.

The money is the first allotment in a four-year funding commitment. The federal money is being matched by the state, said John Olson, director of the state's rural health program. The state match will come from health centers, foundations and other community resources. Any remaining match will come out of the state Education Fund.

The combined $500,000 will be awarded to 25 practitioners in amounts of up to $20,000. Physicians, physician assistants, nurse practitioners and dentists can receive up to $20,000 per year for up to six years by agreeing to work in underserved areas.

The University of Vermont College of Medicine and the Bi-state Primary Care Association will manage the applications and awards.

Nine of Vermont's 14 counties have an inadequate or severely inadequate supply of physicians, according to Sen. Bernie Sanders' office.

The federally qualified health centers, with close to 50 locations across the state, and the rural clinics provide crucial access to health services for Vermont residents.



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