November 19th is National Rural Health Day! The health of our rural communities is a critical component of health overall, yet these communities are often left underserved and with less than accessible coverage.
In order to take advantage of coverage, rural communities face a number of barriers, such as a lack of transportation to and from appointments, fewer doctors in the area, health plans denying necessary treatment, and oftentimes, a less than positive relationship between individuals and providers. In an already confusing and frustrating health system, these barriers lead folks in rural areas to see doctors less often, putting their health at risk.
Why is Rural Health advocacy important?
In addition to the barriers listed above, Pennsylvanians who are living in rural communities face a unique set of challenges. The household income of rural families is typically lower than urban families, and they are more likely to be food insecure. These challenges are increased for folks in rural areas with disabilities. Yet targeted policies and legislation to improve the situation are rare, making effective advocacy critical to better health.
Casey Pegg, a Community Organizer at PHAN, recently completed a report regarding the health of individuals with disabilities who live in rural communities in Pennsylvania. Casey held over 300 conversations with people with disabilities, their family members and caregivers, and local organizations in rural PA.
What did the report find?
The report confirmed that there are a number of barriers to accessing quality care for the disability community in rural PA. In Pennsylvania, 48 out of 67 counties are considered rural, and are home to millions of Pennsylvanians.
One Pennsylvanian who was interviewed for the report said this:
“Several times we have had an individual seen in the ER […] and the hospital does not have the proper equipment to make sure individuals are transferred safely. They usually don’t even realize they are immobile and have already come in the room to discharge us without offering any kind of help to get the individual back in their chair safely. […] We have recently tried in the past few months to have a bone density scan done on an individual on two different occasions. On both occasions the test was unable to be completed due to not having the proper equipment to take her out of her chair to put her in on the table/machine”
How can we improve access to care for rural communities?
The report made several recommendations to improve access to care for the disability community in rural areas. They include, but aren’t limited to, providing education and support to individuals to navigate the health system, better publicizing information for individuals, and using individuals’ experiences to shift future policy.
All of these recommendations would allow the rural health system to better meet communities where they are, and promote better health for all.
How has COVID-19 impacted rural communities?
The COVID-19 health crisis worsened this situation by exposing a lack of safety net available to rural communities. In addition to all of the barriers to quality care listed above, rural communities have been faced with hospital closures due to lack of federal funding, making it even harder to access critical care.
You can read Casey’s full report here: New Report: Healthcare Access for People with Disabilities in Rural Pennsylvania.
Families USA also recently conducted a report on the health of rural communities across the United States. You can read that report here: Report – The State of Rural Health (PDF).