A doctor in a small town does everything from C-sections to setting bones.

Losing one of those doctors in rural Montana could mean losing health care for an entire community, said Frank Reed, senior clinical professor of family medicine at the University of Montana.

On Wednesday, UM announced its Family Medicine Residency of Western Montana program is the recipient of a $1.7 million grant designed to strengthen rural medicine and develop a strong workforce for the future.

The five-year grant is from the Health Resources and Services Administration of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

"Rural communities face the same challenges as all Americans do, in terms of access to affordable, quality health care," Reed said. "And they do it often with much more limited resources at hand.

"That said, their energy and commitment and willingness to innovate and improvise yields an amazing amount of results, given the limitations in their resources."

In Montana, 53 out of 56 counties don't have enough primary care providers, according to UM.

The grant will help resident physicians train in four rural communities.

The funding also will provide training for partner hospitals: Community Hospital of Anaconda, Marcus Daly Memorial Hospital in Hamilton, Providence St. Joseph Medical Center in Polson, and St. Luke Community Healthcare in Ronan.

Called "Team Training for Transformation," the program's goals include improving the patient experience, optimizing the use of information technology and improving health care while lowering cost.

"The ultimate goal is to enhance the health of local populations through a collaborative effort between rural communities and (the family residency program)," UM said in a written release.

"This grant will assist us greatly in furthering our mission to 'serve patients and communities in the rural and under-served areas of Montana,' and we look forward to the next five years," said program director Ned Vasquez.

Reed and Vasquez both are principals on the grant. They hope providers at the selected sites continue to practice the lessons learned as part of the grant after it concludes in June 2020, and they hope other rural communities eventually adopt similar team models.

"There is an incredible sense of pride and independence in our rural communities, and we want to use grant training dollars to help these highly motivated folks reach the community health goals they select," Reed said.

The UM residency program is affiliated with the University of Washington Family Medicine Residency Network.

Based in Missoula, its sponsoring hospitals are Kalispell Regional Healthcare, Providence St. Patrick Hospital and Community Medical Center. The program also operates at nine rural sites in western Montana.

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