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DHS allocates $9 million to address COVID disparities in rural areas


The Wisconsin Department of Health Services has received $27 million from the CDC to address COVID health disparities across racial groups and geographic areas. A third of that funding is allocated to rural communities.

Death rates from COVID are higher in rural Wisconsin counties than in urban areas.

Additionally, the CDC has found American Indians are more likely to test positive for COVID than non-Hispanic white Americans, and more likely to become seriously ill from the virus.

The Wisconsin Department of Health Services recognizes these disparities, which is why it’s dedicated $9 million to address COVID in rural parts of the state.

Deb Standridge is the DHS Deputy Secretary. She formerly worked with St. Mary’s hospital in Rhinelander.

“We have noticed during the pandemic that access to quality healthcare, to job opportunities, to housing and transportation make Wisconsinites in rural communities more vulnerable to COVID-19,” she says.

Rural communities can apply for DHS grants to address these access issues.

“In Lac du Flambeau, for example, that is an area that could truly benefit from opportunities that these grants have,” Standridge says. “Grants (can be used) for community organizations, for community paramedicine to support our EMS system. I remember being in Rhinelander and I remember the community. We had to rely a lot on volunteerism.”

Grants can also be used to fund pop-up vaccine clinics, to place community health workers in rural health departments, or to help trusted messengers like churches spread the word about COVID vaccines.

Standridge says these programs have seen success in the past. She says over 101,000 people have been vaccinated against COVID in events linked to the grants.

Erin Gottsacker worked at WXPR as a Morning Edition host and reporter from December 2020 to January 2023. During her time at the station, Erin reported on the issues that matter most in the Northwoods.
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