PEORIA — A multimillion-dollar federal grant will help Methodist College train community-based primary care nurses.

The school announced the $2.8 million, four-year grant from the Department of Health and Human Services on Monday, with interim Chancellor Deborah Garrison saying the school's students "are going to benefit tremendously from this."

The amount "is a lot of resources and it's going to do a lot of good," U.S. Rep. Darin LaHood said in announcing the grant.

The school is committing to identify 50 undergraduate students who will learn to work in non-hospital settings to boost access to health care in underserved communities. That includes rural and urban areas alike, officials said.

"There's underserved areas within blocks of this college," said Todd Baker, UnityPoint Health vice president of clinics.

Students will work in partnership with UnityPoint clinics and other community-based providers, and get clinical experiences involving chronic disease prevention and control, including mental health and substance use conditions.

While physicians are important to the process of providing health care to those communities, "we cannot do what we need to do just with physicians," Baker said. "We need nurses to back us up."

The program also will provide continuing education coursework for at least 25 current nurses to work in the same field.

Grant dollars will partially support tuition, as well as covering the cost of two new full-time positions for coordinating the program and a consultant to work on integrating elements of the curriculum into existing courses.

The grant comes through the Health Resources and Services Administration at HHS. That's the same entity that last year awarded the college a $1.5 million grant for scholarships for disadvantaged students.

Chris Kaergard can be reached at ckaergard@pjstar.com. Follow him on Twitter @ChrisKaergard.