UnitedHealthcare presented a grant to the Minneola Hospital on Wednesday for $48,000.

The money will be used to build the hospitals mental health provider practice.

"We started integrating behavioral and mental health in the hospital about 3 years ago," said Minneola Hospital CEO Debbie Bruner. "This grant will assist our mental health provider to grow the practice and continue to obtain the qualifications he needs.

"For people coming into the hospital seeking mental health services, this will allow us to provide them more anonymity for people to seek the help they need."

The grant received by Minneola Hospital is one of five that were awarded by UHC to rural hospitals.

"This was the only grant awarded to southwest Kansas," said Dr. John Esslinger, chief medical officer of UnitedHealthcare Community Plan of Kansas. "We wanted to focus on rural areas because of their geography within the state makes it harder for them to receive the proper support needed to serve their community.

"We found that with bringing in mental health providers to hospitals, there are fewer emergency room visits based on behavioral health needs.

"So we wanted to focus more on the rural communities in Kansas."

Serving more than 4,000 residents, Minneola Hospital not only serves Clark County but also Ford and Meade County.

The behavioral health therapy services the grant will help provide will go towards the screening of patients for depression and drug and alcohol dependency, provide in-patient services and implement post-emergency department phone calls for chronic users.

"Resources in rural areas are tight," Bruner said. "There would be no way we could provide these services without this grant and get our provider licensed.

"We are very appreciative to be able to do this and are excited to be moving forward."

According to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, approximately 30 percent of Kansans live in rural or frontier areas, with more than 80 counties established as areas with shortages of primary care health professionals.

According to 2016 Kids Count data, youth in rural and frontier Kansas have a higher percentage of teen violent deaths, tobacco use and binge drinking compared to kids in urban and semi-urban Kansas.

The number of Kansas children in poverty increased 3.8 percent, according UnitedHealth Foundation’s America’s Health Rankings report in the past year.

"We want to support community health providers as much as we can," said Esslinger. "This will improve the access to care for those in need of behavioral health and those interested in telehealth technology for doctors to patients.

"In total we donated $230,000 to go towards these rural health care providers."

To contact the writer email vmarshall@dodgeglobe.com