National Rural Health Day shines light on need for rural doctors
By Je By Jennifer Dunn, UGA Cooperative Extension Rural Health Agent
More than 60 million Americans and 1.5 million Georgians live and work in rural communities and value being members of small communities, however access to health care and treatment can be challenging in areas where doctors and hospitals can be far from home.
November 17 is National Rural Health Day, which is observed annually on the third Thursday of November to recognize and bring attention to the state of rural healthcare. The day was established to honor rural providers, healthcare professionals, hospitals and community leaders who support towns and communities throughout the nation and provide opportunities for them to continue to thrive.
In the early part of the 20th century, it became clear that rural areas lacked adequate access to health care services, but lacked the financial resources needed to expand access. The Social Security Act of 1935 was drafted to help extend health services to mothers and children living in rural areas, an important that resulted in lower maternal and infant mortality rates. More than 50 years later, in 1991, the State Offices of Rural Health began offering grant programs that have provided an important support system for families living in rural communities.
Currently, we know there aren’t enough doctors and therapists living and working in our rural communities and, as a result, we do not have adequate access to medical treatment and hospital care in many communities. This is especially true for those seeking mental health services. According to the National Rural Health Association (NHRA), the patient-to-primary care physician ratio in rural areas is only 39.8 physicians per 100,000 people, compared to 53.3 physicians per 100,000 in urban areas.
The statistics for behavioral health providers are even lower. A 2018 study in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine estimated that, in rural counties — those without a core city of 10,000 people or more — 80% lacked a psychiatrist, 61% lacked a psychologist and 91% lacked a psychiatric nurse practitioner.
At the University of Georgia and within UGA Cooperative Extension, work on rural stress and mental health is expanding and becoming a priority. UGA Extension held the state’s first Farm Stress Summit in Tifton in May, attracting more than 100 attendees.
As a result of the summit, the Georgia Agricultural Wellness Alliance was created with partners from UGA, Georgia Farm Bureau, Georgia Department of Agriculture, the Georgia Foundation for Agriculture and the Georgia Rural Health Innovation Center at Mercer University School of Medicine.
This group’s primary focus is supporting the whole health of farming communities and is researching best practices to address rural and farm stress and wellbeing through data collection and outreach in rural communities across Georgia. A second Farm Stress Summit is planned for early 2023, with date and location to be announced later.
Information on Rural Health Day and ways to mark the occasion are available on the following websites: nationaltoday.com/national-rural-health-day, hrsa.gov/rural-health/about-us/rural-health-day, powerofrural.org/ways-to-celebrate/ and rcorp-ta.org/rcorp-corner/rcorp-blog/nrhd2022-national-rural-health-day-content-hub.
More information on the Rural Georgia, Growing Stronger initiative, extension.uga.edu/rural. For more information about rural health resources visit: https://www.georgiaruralhealth.org/ or contact your local UGA county Extension office.
For more information about the Georgia Agriculture Wellness Alliance, please contact Jennifer Dunn, Rural Health Agent for UGA Cooperative Extension at Jennifer.Dunn@uga.edu.