What Can We Do to Save Rural Health?

Rural Health

Fairfield, WA’s Military Wall of Honor

The spiraling costs of healthcare have created the need for shared resources and regionalized services. It only makes sense. After all, why outfit two labs and clinics, stretch the time of doctors and healthcare professionals between multiple locations? When one, centrally located clinic or medical office should be enough? And why not share the expenses of the supporting staff needed? The rural communities can just seek medical assistance in urban centers that are often within a half hour drive. Sounds simple when analyzing the cost-saving potential. But what about the human cost? Does this ever factor into the equation?

The financial struggles of rural health

According to Becker’s hospital news, finance woes were the primary cause of the closure of 64 rural hospitals in the four years between 2013 and 2017. And during the previous U.S. rocky financial period in the mid-to-late ’80s, 140 rural hospitals closed. Recently, the small community of Fairfield in Eastern Washington is one of the latest rural communities to fall prey to the need for regionalized cost savings in healthcare services.

A large healthcare organization purchased the local doctor’s group. The organization announced via a letter to the locals that they’re relocating the doctors to nearby urban Spokane. As a result, this is leaving a small community home to two skilled facilities, without a doctor or nurse practitioner. Many would argue “what’s the big deal? It’s only about 30 miles away to get medical attention.”

Rural healthcare facilities save lives

Rural communities already face a large challenge by not having a local doctor and relying on local EMTs only for medical emergencies. Survivability of these emergencies are often measured in seconds, not minutes, and certainly not hours. The quicker access to medical treatment, the better survivability and quality of life after a catastrophic event. There is a saying revolving around the treatment of heart attacks that goes, “time is muscle.” The longer the time for treatment, the more damage to the heart muscle.

The CDC also reports that unintentional injury deaths are 50% higher in rural communities than urban communities. And delays in service are a common reason. Rural communities with limited access to healthcare can also create delays in diagnosis of diseases like cancer and diabetes; delay routine checkups that identify signs of stroke or other life-threatening factors; and rural communities are home to many elderly residents. Whom are part of the 12% of the 65 and over age population who consume over 34% of all prescribed medication. This also requires monitoring and care from a licensed medical professional.

The beauty of rural communities

So why not just move? The flip side of the equation is the quality of life and community that is offered in rural communities. Reduced cost of living, less stress, less noise and pollution, and quality of time with family are all well-documented benefits to rural life. Additionally, the sense of community and active preservation of American values coupled with a continued celebration of life, tradition, and family is the backbone of the rural landscape. This beautiful community of Fairfield is one such example of the celebration of life with the installation of their Wall of Honor, dedicated to those who have served our country. They continue to honor tradition, family, and community values.

But who will continue to serve our rural communities? What can we do to take the human equation of lack of transportation to a doctors appointment into consideration? What cost do we allocate to a life lost due to inaccessibility of healthcare? And what about the local businesses that support the services of the visiting doctors? What can be done when the population demographic is not the model to welcome telemedicine and needs licensed medical professionals to tend to the residents in person?

It is an open-ended question that may not have an ideal solution. But for Fairfield, WA, sharing the belief in rural community and having a passion for rural health is everything to them. And if you’re looking to possibly open a practice, you know for sure there is a source of revenue ready for you to grab onto. Moving to this rural community that rewards and celebrates loyalty may be the perfect opportunity for you!