The number of rural hospitals in the U.S. is exploding, and not for good reason.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 9 in 10 rural hospitals are “low-performing” or “underperforming” on some metric—that is, the quality of care is generally lower than the national average.
A recent report by the U-M Department of Public Health and Tropical Medicine and University of Minnesota Medical Center found that nearly two-thirds of rural communities surveyed said they are “highly rural” and have less than 50% of the population served by a health system.
That means rural hospitals don’t have enough doctors, nurses, or other medical professionals to serve those areas, and they’re more likely to see patients in rural settings.
In addition, the rural hospitals’ lack of community care makes it difficult to maintain high standards of care in those settings, making them less likely to be a good fit for patients, who can often be poor and have limited resources.
The American College of Surgeons has called on the U’s top healthcare officials to work together to improve rural health care.
As part of its push, the organization is hosting a conference for the public next week called “Rural Health Care in America,” which will focus on ways to improve the quality and delivery of care for rural patients.
“We need to find ways to bring people into rural settings that have been historically underserved,” said Nancy M. Loomis, chair of the American College’s Rural Advisory Committee.
“The more we can help patients feel comfortable and feel cared for, the better.”
As we approach the 50th anniversary of the landmark 1965 Roe v.
Wade Supreme Court ruling that legalized abortion nationwide, it’s important to remember that there are still thousands of rural people who need our help, and that our health system can and should improve.
But what about the ones in our community who aren’t?
How can we help them?
“There’s a lot of stigma associated with rural healthcare,” said Dr. Roberta L. Hagerty, president of the Mid-American Health Association, an organization of midwestern health care professionals.
“There are a lot people who have a lot to lose and don’t want to do it.
They have a fear of the unknown and they think it’s going to be difficult to get the care they need.”
Hagery believes that we have to “reinvent the wheel” in order to better serve the rural population.
“I think we have an opportunity to do that through better education, better infrastructure and better access,” she said.
In order to address the needs of the rural community, Hagerry says that we need to “build a culture of care,” which means educating patients, staff, and providers.
For example, she suggests having “good communication” and “good patient-first conversations” about what is expected of rural patients and what needs to be done to care for them.
She also suggests establishing a “health community” where people can get help from people in their community, and where they can seek help and information about their health needs.
It’s important that the rural health community has “a shared understanding and respect for all members of the community,” said Hagerya, because the health care system is “based on the needs and concerns of the people who live and work in the community.”
At the conference, Haggerty says that rural health is also important to address other health issues, such as mental health and substance abuse.
“When we have those conversations with rural communities, it can create a better system that’s not just about funding,” she added.
“It’s about caring for those people and making sure they’re getting the care that they need, and it’s about helping them be healthy.”