Health of Our People
All people in America deserve access to good, affordable healthcare. If we want small towns and rural communities to contribute to the well-being of the nation, we need rural healthcare systems that work. These should include preventive care, health education, and both community-based and high-tech delivery systems.
Health care is a critical issue for all America, but for rural America the issues are unique. Health care is a major determinant of the quality of life for rural people and whether they are able to stay and thrive in their communities. Moreover, the health-care sector is an important generator of economic opportunity and income for many rural regions, the hospital or clinic being one of the anchor institutions that support vibrant communities.
Rural America faces many challenges in providing quality and affordable health care for its people. These challenges are often a function of low density and remoteness that push up health-care delivery costs; policies that apply universal, mainly urban-determined, funding and service formulae to rural institutions and systems that are inappropriate to rural contexts; and under-investment in infrastructure, especially in qualified personnel and information technology, which inhibits innovation in rural health care. The complexity and impact of these challenges have increased under the country’s current economic climate.
The National Rural Assembly has identified nine main issues that must be addressed if health care is to improve in rural areas:
- The number one priority is to recruit and retain a quality rural health workforce.
- Adequate and flexible health-care finance is the critical prerequisite of all attempts to improve quality and affordable health care in rural America.
- Health information technology has considerable potential for improving the delivery of health care in rural communities.
- Rural America provides an excellent proving ground for innovation and experimentation in health care.
- Rural communities need encouragement to adopt and sustain healthy behaviors.
- Quality improvement is an essential component of rural health care, using the Institute of Medicine’s definition of quality health care as safe, effective, patient-centered, timely, efficient, and equitable.
- The decreasing availability of pharmacy services is becoming critical for many rural areas.
- As the population of rural America continues to age, there is a growing need for support for family caregivers.
- One special group, returning veterans, places
particular demands on rural health care.