Over 60 million Americans live and work in seemingly idyllic, rural communities. But life gets challenging when illness or pregnancy forces you to travel greater distances to see a doctor, or get to a hospital if the local one closed due to lack of funding. National Rural Health Day on November 21, an annual event on the third Thursday each November, helps us focus on the state of rural healthcare. We celebrate the providers, healthcare professionals, and community leaders who keep the spirit of small-town America alive in the best way possible.
National Rural Health Day - History
Congress passed the Opioid Crisis Response Act
This led to funding for healthcare providers and other resources aimed at rural communities struggling to meet the needs of those with substance abuse disorders.
New rural health government agency recognized
The State Offices of Rural Health grant program has since become a major player as a support system for rural communities.
Social Security Act helped reduce rural mother and child mortality rates
The Social Security Act made an all-out effort to extend health services to mothers and children in rural areas, which resulted in lower maternal and infant mortality rates.
Additional efforts made to expand health care in rural areas
It was apparent that rural areas needed additional health care services, but lack of financial resources kept many public health nurses from getting adequate training outside of cities.
How to Observe National Rural Health Day
1. Plan a group run, bicycle ride, or hit the trail
Do something to make yourself feel good. If you are lucky enough to live outside the city, get some friends together and do some hiking or off-road bicycling — or maybe even take a peaceful walk. After all, focusing on healthy living is a big part of this day. .
2. Thank your healthcare providers
Sometimes just a simple "thank you" will do. On National Rural Health Day, call or visit your local healthcare providers and let them know how much you appreciate everything they do for you. These doctors, nurses, midwives, and behavioral health professionals worry about you more than you know.
3. Write a letter to the editor or post a note online
Advocacy is a big part of National Rural Health Day. If you write something important or creative enough, it may go viral. Then you're hitting an even bigger audience than you originally intended. Get your voice out there and let everybody know that rural communities need love too.
5 Reasons Why Rural America Needs Better Healthcare
1. There aren't enough doctors
Only 10 percent of physicians have practices in rural communities despite the fact that nearly 25 percent of the U.S. population lives outside of cities.
2. Children are suffering
About 24 percent of children in rural settings are battling poverty.
3. There aren't enough hospitals
Within the past 25 years, more than 470 rural hospitals have shut down due to loss of funding.
4. There aren't enough mental health services
Almost 20 percent of rural counties lack mental health services compared with only 5 percent of metropolitan counties.
5. Hypertension affects rural settings more
Factors such as isolation, increased poverty, and overall aging may be some of the reasons why hypertension is significantly higher in rural areas.
Why National Rural Health Day is Important
A. Rural communities are part of America
Sometimes city dwellers forget that there's a whole other world outside of urban centers. National Rural Health Day is an opportunity for everyone to salute the unsung heroes of rural communities — the hospitals, health care professionals and other providers who keep rural communities going despite diminishing resources, population loss, and the ravages of the opioid crisis.
B. Rural communities struggle to keep surgeons and hospitals
Outside of the picture postcard beauty of many rural communities, there's a war raging. Lack of reimbursements by Medicare and Medicaid for services rendered, especially during the current opioid crisis, is literally shutting down hospitals. The few hospitals that remain open are having a hard time training and retaining quality surgeons and physicians. Many doctors either "age out" or transition from providing general surgical care to specialized care — meaning returning to the cities that can pay the high salaries for that level of skilled surgical expertise.
C. Poverty is proportionately higher in rural America
National Rural Health Day highlights poverty's impact on the healthcare system in rural communities. The average income for rural residents is about 25% less than the income for urban Americans. The escalating opioid crisis, the closure of manufacturing, farming, mining, and other businesses mean younger people either leave the area or suffer from behavioral health issues. Rural communities of color often live in "food deserts" — areas without stores selling fresh produce or other perishables, which contributes to high rates of hypertension and cardiovascular problems.