By Dee Jepsen and Shoshanah Inwood
National Rural Health Day was Thursday November 21, 2019. This day brings attention to the unique challenges rural communities face when it comes to health services and healthy people.
Each year, the National Organization of State Offices of Rural Health selects a topic to organize its efforts and creates awareness for health care services. The 2019 theme is: Plug into the power of rural.
Ohio has rural health deficits
When it comes to health care services, 50% of Ohio counties are designated as Governor’s certified shortage areas. There are 44 counties, or regions within counties, considered underserved.
Rural communities do not see the same health advancements as urban counties. Residents within rural areas face accessibility issues and an overall lack of providers. Access to ambulatory and emergency medical services are especially critical in rural America, where the majority of trauma deaths occur. The opioid crisis can also affect rural communities’ need for first-responder services.
Rural residents are typically an aging population suffering from a greater number of chronic conditions, and a large percentage of rural Americans are uninsured or underinsured when it comes to health care.
Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicates rural areas have a 50% higher rate of unintentional injuries than in urban areas. There are increased injuries from falls, motor vehicle crashes and drug overdoses.
A past article from the National Conference of State Legislatures, offers several options for improving conditions in rural communities. A policy associate, Charlie Severance-Medaris, suggests these approaches.
- Focusing on health care workforce recruitment and retention — Many rural communities struggle to attract and retain health care professionals, especially behavioral and mental health care providers. Addressing these shortages is a key strategy for improving access to health care and preventive services for people in rural areas.
- Strengthening disease prevention, screening and treatment efforts — Prevention programs and screenings can help early detection and treatment of heart disease, cancer and chronic lower respiratory diseases.
- Supporting healthier behaviors and neighborhoods — Tobacco use and obesity are significant risk factors within rural communities that contribute to the overall health of the residents. The leading causes of death associated with tobacco use and obesity are heart disease, cancer, stroke and chronic respiratory disease.
- Improving health coverage — Rural Americans would seek health care if additional consideration were given to make health insurance more affordable or increase the number of service providers in the area.
- Continuing efforts to prevent opioid overdose deaths — Many states have identified the need and put programs in place to reduce the effects of drug addiction and abuse.
- Expanding telehealth services — Telehealth can extend the reach of health care into rural areas by providing over the phone counseling, diagnosis of certain medical conditions and remote pharmacy/prescription services.
State office to support rural health
Ohio has a State Office of Rural Health, which serves as the anchor of information and support for rural communities. They advocate strengthening health care delivery systems through their resources and programs, and encourage recruitment and retention of health professionals in rural areas. Their website answers questions and offers additional information to help leverage partnerships locally, statewide and nationally. Visit https://odh.ohio.gov/wps/portal/gov/odh/know-our-programs/state-office-of-rural-health.
The Ohio State University initiatives to support rural health
The College of Food, Agriculture and Environmental Sciences hosted a day-long interactive forum for individuals and organizations in both the health and agriculture sectors to come together and discuss health care issues. Participants were encouraged to explore the ways in which health, access to health care and health insurance affect the health and vitality of Ohio’s farmers and Ohio’s rural and farm economy. This event was based on the findings of the national USDA funded project “Health Insurance Rural Economic Development and Agriculture” (HIREDnAg). Additional information on the ways in which access to health care and health insurance affects economic development and quality of life in the farm sector see: www.hirednag.net.
Forum activities examined the ways personal, family and community health affect the vitality of farming enterprises, and also the social, economic and environmental wellbeing of our rural communities. Participants from around the state came together to forge new partnerships and identify projects, programs and policies that will strengthen the health and vitality of Ohio’s farm sector. Ohio State offered $10,000 in mini-grants to individuals and organizations to implement projects developed during the forum, and awardees will be announced later in November.
The power of rural
National Rural Health Day brings awareness to the health-related issues so prevalent in rural areas. A special website (www.PowerofRural.org) has been established for rural health stakeholders to explore national resources. Highlights of this page are a partnership pledge and a toolkit for advocacy. There is also a showcase of individuals and organizations selected as their 2019 Community Stars.
In the nation and in Ohio, rural health care is a critical topic. The one-day celebration of National Rural Health Day allows individuals and organizations to rally behind the valuable services provided to the rural communities. Collectively these activities are designed to improve the quality of life for rural Americans and sustain our rural communities as wonderful places to live and work.