Health Disparities in Rural Communities: Current Trends and Recommendations for a Brighter Future
By Kelsey Conner, Public Health Information Specialist
Before we begin talking about health disparities in rural communities specifically, it’s important to understand what health disparity is, why it happens and who it can impact.
Health disparities are preventable health differences that certain groups experience at higher rates due to social or economic disadvantages. In other words, how healthy we are sometimes depends on who we are and where we were born. Certain characteristics that could either help or hurt our health include:
· Race or ethnicity
· Sex or gender
· Geography, ex. rural vs. urban
· Sexual orientation
· Immigrant status
· Mental health status
While this is not a complete list, it does provide an idea of what causes negative health outcomes for certain groups of people, across generations.
People in our community are seeing shifts in how accessible healthcare is. For example, people are having a harder time paying for health care and/or getting to their appointments. When a person is unable to make healthcare visits, it can lessen their likelihood to receive recommended screenings and prevention services leading to poorer health. We are also seeing a shortage of opportunities for care in full-time in-patient facilities. When a facility runs out of space, timeliness to provide care to a person in need diminishes.
Lack of broadband access and the rise of telehealth has made it particularly difficult for individuals in rural areas to find accurate health information. In Southwest Missouri, broadband access is worse than the U.S. average. Lack of broadband access can make it harder for those in rural areas to make informed decisions about their health in comparison to their urban counterparts.
Health Disparities in Rural Communities
While there are many positive qualities of living and working in rural communities, many Americans living in rural communities experience significant health disparities. Some of the biggest issues include access to healthcare and public health services, poverty, health-related behaviors, and chronic conditions.
Access to Healthcare and Public Health Services
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) (2020), uninsured rates are higher in rural areas which can make accessing and affording basic healthcare more difficult. Here is a breakdown of uninsured rates in rural communities located in Greene County:
· Willard — 7.57 percent
· Ash Grove & Walnut Grove — 10.22 percent
· Strafford — 8.89 percent
· Fair Grove — 9.86 percent
· Republic — 11.86 percent (PolicyMaps, 2023).
Additionally, while we’re seeing healthcare workforce shortages across America as a whole, this issue is only intensified in rural communities. Less than 8% of all physicians and surgeons choose to practice in rural settings and according to a 2020 report from the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), the United States could see a shortage of between 21,400 and 55,200 primary care doctors by 2033 with rural communities being most negatively impacted in the fallout (RHIHub, 2022).
Poverty in Rural Communities
Rural residents have lower incomes than urban counterparts, and rural areas have overall higher poverty rates, especially among rural racial and ethnic minority populations, according to the 2021 Medicaid and CHIP Payment and Access Commission brief Medicaid and Rural Health reported.
Health Related Behaviors and Chronic Conditions
According to the RHIHub (2022), rural populations experience worse health outcomes than urban populations, which is in part due to a higher incidence of chronic physical or mental health conditions and higher engagement in unhealthy behaviors such as smoking.
Recommendations for a Brighter Future
While these figures may seem overwhelming, Springfield-Greene County Health is working to promote health equity both internally and externally. We are working with Greene County residents at an individual level through our CHWi program. This program will help us form relationships and build trust in the community to identify chronic health conditions and health disparities that impact community members and connect them to resources that can help.
If you are interested in learning more about health disparities, visit the CDC’s health equity page here: What is Health Equity? | Health Equity | CDC. If you are interested in learning more about our CHWI programming, we posted a recent blog with more information here. If you’d like to speak to a Community Health Advocate directly, please feel free to reach out to us at email@example.com or give us a call at (417) 874–1211.
Kelsey Conner began working at Springfield-Greene County Health in 2021 and is now the team lead for COVID-19 outreach. She received her Bachelor of Science in Socio-Political Communication and her Master of Arts in Communication with an emphasis in Political Communication, from Missouri State University. Kelsey has worked in an outreach capacity for organizations such as the American Diabetes Association, Planned Parenthood, and Isabel’s House since she completed her undergraduate program in 2015.