Rural Health

Primary Care Office

The Primary Care Office (PCO) improves access to primary healthcare for medically underserved areas and populations. The office is funded through an annual grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA). Through outreach and partnerships, the PCO works to identify and reduce barriers to primary healthcare.

Services and Activities

Partners

Federally Qualified Health Centers

Federally qualified health centers (FQHCs), also known as community health centers (CHCs), are facilities that receive funds from the HRSA Health Center Program to provide primary care services in underserved areas. These facilities are in both rural and urban settings and serve Washington residents regardless of their ability to pay.

A complete list of community health centers and FQHCs in the state along with a current map is on the Washington Association for Community Health website.

At the Department of Health, the Primary Care Office has a specific mission to support FQHCs and is able to provide technical assistance in a variety of areas.

For more information on Federally Qualified Health Centers, see What Is a Health Center?

Health Professional Shortage Areas

The Department of Health works in partnership with the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) to identify geographic areas, populations and facilities experiencing a shortage of health care services. These designations are called Health Professional Shortage Areas (HPSA). HPSAs may be designated as having a shortage of primary medical care, dental or mental health providers. Each designation is assigned a HPSA score based on the analysis of survey data collected from providers and standardized national data sets. State and federal programs use these designations to determine eligibility for payment enhancements and workforce incentive programs. For more information, see What is a Shortage Designation?

HPSA designations are available for three different disciplines of non-specialized health care:

  • Primary medical care
  • General dental care
  • Mental health care

There are three general types of HPSAs designations:

Type of designation Requirements
Geographic HPSA A shortage of providers for an entire group of people within a defined geographic area.
Population HPSA

A shortage of providers for a specific group of people within a defined geographic area (e.g., low-income, migrant farm workers, cultural/social barriers).

Facility HPSA A qualifying organization that serves a population or geographic area with a shortage of providers. See What is a facility HPSA? (third question on webpage)

Additional Resources

The Office of Community Health Systems manages the shortage designations for Washington state, under the Primary Care Office Agreement with HRSA. The Overview of Federal Health Professional Shortage Areas and Underserved Designations (PDF) discusses the program in more detail. We also maintain generalized mapping of our state's designated areas and produce high-level county Healthcare Access Reports that may be useful to those interested in healthcare access issues. For more information, see our Data, Maps and Other Resources page.

For more information about the HPSA designations, contact the Office of Community Health Systems.

Medically Underserved Area and Population Designations

Medically Underserved Areas/Populations (MUA/P) are geographic areas or populations designated by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) as having a lack of access to primary care services. These designations are a prerequisite to requesting grant awards to help establish health maintenance organizations or community health centers under section 330 of the Public Health Service Act. For more information, see What is a Medically Underserved Area/Population?:

Type of designation Requirements
Medically Underserved Area A shortage of primary care health services within geographic areas.
Medically Underserved Population

A shortage of primary care health services for a specific population subset within a geographic area. These groups may face economic, cultural, or language barriers to health care.

Additional Resources

The Office of Community Health Systems manages these designations for Washington state, under the Primary Care Office Agreement with HRSA. The Overview of Federal Health Professional Shortage Areas and Underserved Designations (PDF) discusses the program in more detail. We also maintain generalized mapping of our state's designated areas. For more information, see our Data, Maps and Other Resources page.

For information about MUA/P designations contact the Office of Community Health Systems.

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