While the Covid-19 pandemic put a spotlight on some of the disparities between rural health and urban health, organizers of the National Rural Health Day hope that November 17, 2022, will shine a light on all of the good that happens in rural health.
Established in 2007, the day is a way for those in rural healthcare to highlight what they bring to their communities. The day is organized by the National Organization of State Offices of Rural Health (NOSORH) and all of the state offices of rural health across the country.
The day came about because of a poster, said Karen Madden, acting director for the Center for Health Care Policy and Resource Development with the New York Department of Health.
“I was with the National Organization of State Offices of Rural Health in Washington, D.C., taking the time to meet with some of our partner organizations, and I saw a poster for National Public Health Week,” Madden said. “I was looking at that poster and thinking that ‘You know, we [rural healthcare] don’t even get a day.'”
Later, at lunch with her peers, she mentioned the idea of a national day to celebrate rural health. Initially, she thought they’d all dismiss the idea. To her surprise, everyone was on board, and the next year was their inaugural event.
“Very quickly, all of the states jumped on the idea,” she said. “It has given people — the states and community providers — a day to celebrate the things that they do.”
And it comes at a time, Madden said, when the challenges facing rural health are growing.
“One of the challenges rural health faces now is the workforce,” she said. “That’s an issue across healthcare, but it’s a situation that’s much worse in rural areas because those healthcare facilities can’t compete with larger urban facilities in terms of pay.”
And, she said, rural health care is difficult because the margins to operate are so thin. It’s not just that there aren’t as many people to care for, she said, but just breaking even is harder because there aren’t as many people able to pay for services.
Those that seek healthcare in rural settings tend to be older, poorer and sicker, she said.
“There may be fewer people, but they have more needs,” she said. “Many times, they will hold off on getting services (as a way to save money), so when they do come in it’s so much worse.”
That’s what makes National Rural Health Day so special, she said.
“Rural healthcare is hard — it’s just challenge after challenge,” she said. “But this… this is fun. This is a way to show off the innovation that happens in rural healthcare, as much as the collaboration that happens.”
This year’s event will once again feature a presentation of Community Stars — a recognition program to honor individuals and groups whose efforts and activities in rural health stand out.
On November 17, NOSORH will present “Carpool Collaboration: Conversations with Mission-Minded Rural Stakeholders,” which will feature a panel of guests sharing their stories about what they’re doing to collaborate with others to improve rural healthcare.
Panelists from the fields of agriculture, broadband, public health, philanthropy and rural and community health clinics will discuss ways healthcare providers and the rural community can join forces to help the more than 60 million people living in rural America.
So far, National Rural Health Day has helped elevate the topic of rural health, organizers said. In 2021, the hashtag #PowerofRural had more than 14 million impressions during the week of NRHD, and averaged more than 60 tweets per hour. The #RuralHealthChat on digital equity in rural health had more than 2 million impressions on Twitter.
NRHD is a day where local rural health providers and rural healthcare facilities can toot their own horn as well. NOSORH provides a digital tool kit for rural health stakeholders to publicize their part in the celebration. Last year, the toolkit was downloaded more than 5,000 times.
But more than anything, Madden said, this year is about bringing people together. She hopes this year’s rural health day will help providers and other stakeholders in rural healthcare come together and act as a team to move rural healthcare forward.
“We want to get everybody together and talking in one place,” she said. “If we want to succeed, we need to get everybody talking to each other.”