It’s National Rural Health Day and for Community Health Centers, that’s something to celebrate. Nearly half (44 percent) of health centers are in rural communities, serving 8.5 million patients. The work that health centers do in rural communities defies the conventional wisdom that innovation and good ideas only happen in urban civilization. The Community Health Center Movement, which most anyone agrees was a good idea, was launched in rural Mississippi more than 50 years ago. Health centers’ endurance as a model for innovation is born out of the notion that only great need can bring forth workable solutions. And so that brings us to the ingenuity of rural health centers and the people who work there, cobbling together resources, manpower and no small amount of creativity to meet local health needs.
In places where the nearest doctor or hospital can be located 100 miles in any direction, rural health centers are the most likely to use telehealth to bridge the gap people may experience in accessing care. Although only 44 percent of health centers are rural, rural health centers make up 54 percent of all health centers using telehealth in 2016. If you want an absolute number, there were 281 rural health centers using telehealth in 2016. Rural health centers are also engaged in pioneering work to address the social determinants of health, such as lack of nutrition, homelessness and mental illness. Health centers by mission and tradition reach beyond the walls of the exam room to address the factors typically linked with poor health, and in rural communities such an approach is essential. George Sigounas, Administrator of the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) notes in a recent blog post, “The Power of Rural: Celebrating National Rural Health Day,” that rural Americans typically face disproportionate obstacles when it comes to health.
He writes, “…rural Americans have poorer outcomes when it comes to substance abuse (particularly the opioid abuse epidemic), childhood obesity, and mental health. While we have seen a rise in opioid abuse deaths on a national level, rural residents face an even greater disparity as rural states are more likely to have higher rates of overdose deaths, specifically from prescription opioid overdoses. Rural children face their own disparity when considering childhood obesity. Rural children aged 10 – 17 years have higher rates of obesity than their urban counterparts. Additionally, while the prevalence of mental illness is comparable among urban and rural communities, the barriers lie within the availability and accessibility of mental health services.”
Rural health has been a concern at the federal level for 30 years, since the Federal Office of Rural Health Policy was authorized by Congress in 1987 to advise the Secretary of Health and Human Services and coordinate activities related to rural health. To learn more about the activities associated with National Rural Health Day, please visit this link.