Rural Healthcare Can't Be Left Behind

November 19, 2020

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, about 60 million Americans live in rural areas, nearly one-fifth of the total population. Many rural residents face healthcare accessibility challenges. In fact, in many locations, healthcare services are diminishing rather than growing. The arrival of COVID-19 further highlighted and exacerbated these challenges. However, it has also forced our healthcare system to embrace telehealth, a key component of reimagining how rural Americans can more readily access healthcare services. 

While there can be many benefits to living in rural areas, we also know that rural residents are often older, sicker, and poorer than their urban counterparts, and they face additional challenges like greater travel distances to healthcare services or reduced services in their communities. One need only look to the increasing closures of birthing units in local hospitals for an idea of the complex and growing barriers to care in some rural communities.  

It is these difficulties that make community health centers such central members of many rural communities. With 86 delivery sites across the state, Iowa’s 13 community health centers and one migrant health program delivered care to more than 226,000 Iowans in 2019. Across those delivery sites, 50% of which are in rural areas, CHCs employed more than 1,800 Iowans who work to keep their communities healthy and vibrant. 

Since 2011, governments, nonprofits, providers, and more have recognized the third Thursday in November as National Rural Health Day. Today, we want to celebrate the “Power of Rural” and how Iowa CHCs make a difference in rural communities across the state. 

In support of rural communities, the Iowa Primary Care Association and our member CHCs are advocating for solutions to improve broadband coverage, which has huge implications for the economic viability of towns and the ability to offer high-quality telehealth and other services. We are also actively engaged with our State Members of Congress and State Legislators to identify ways to fund the expansion of CHCs to additional rural areas, secure telehealth reimbursement that can build a sustainable system of care and make infrastructure investments to update physical spaces and health information technology. We were also proud to partner with the Iowa Rural Health Association and Iowa Association of Rural Health Clinics during our annual conference this past October. 

To celebrate the Power of Rural we need to recognize the value of our rural towns, understand their healthcare needs, and identify solutions and resources to address healthcare gaps.