El Centro Family Health Medical Director Matt Probst listens to the heart of patient Marie. Probst is one of the healthcare providers in the documentary "The Providers," being screened online until November 21 in celebration of National Rural Health Day. (Photo by Adria Malcolm, courtesy of "The Providers")

Tim Baty knows first-hand what it’s like to go without healthcare because of financial hardship.

Growing up in Widener, Arkansas, population 300, Baty saw the devastation that not having access to medical attention can have on a family and on a community. His father, who had no medical insurance or access to critical healthcare, passed away at age 53 from colon cancer. That experience motivated Baty to want to serve as a primary care provider in rural Arkansas.

Baty, an osteopathic medical student at New York Institute of Technology College of Osteopathic Medicine at Arkansas State University, in one of 44 people who will be honored this year in the Community Stars booklet released by the National Organization of State Offices of Rural Health (NOSORH) in celebration of National Rural Health Day on November 21, 2019.

The book, a collection of stories highlighting individuals and organizations selected for their work in rural health, will represent nearly every state in the country.

“This year, we had a goal of having a Community Star from each of the 50 states. Last year we had 27.  I am thrilled to share that we have 44 states represented in the 2019 edition,” said Teryl Eisinger, CEO of NOSORH said.

Included in the book are stories like these:

  • David Mark, Chief Executive Officer, Bighorn Valley Health Center, Inc., Hardin, Montana, who founded BVHC, a community-based, outpatient primary healthcare center that provides services to 53,000 people in an area covering 22,000-square miles, including three tribal communities.
  • Jo Ann N. Brown Program Director and Coordinator | NAMI Mid-Hudson (National Alliance on Mental Illness), Wingdale, New York, who works to address mental health awareness through a program called “Ending the Silence” that teaches families in her area how to care for family members with a mental illness.
  • Rescue Divas, Ashland, Wisconsin, a one-week, hands-on summer camp program for middle school girls to empower them to explore careers in healthcare and emergency medical services.

“It’s so important to grow an understanding of rural America beyond the stereotypes that sometimes make the headlines” Eisinger said. “We’re challenging rural people, providers and policy makers to shout out about what’s real in rural America and what they are doing to grow a vital rural health landscape.”

Several events are scheduled throughout the celebration period that runs through November 21. (For more information about the celebration, the book, and the events taking place, go to www.powerofrural.org.)

Also featured this year will be a screening of the award-winning documentary “The Providers,” followed by a live web event on November 21. The film is available for free screening, provided upon registration at powerofrural.org.) The film is set against the backdrop of the opioid epidemic in rural America and follows three healthcare providers and their providers. The film had its national broadcast debut in April 2019 in Independent Lens. After the film screening, Eisinger will lead a discussion with Anna Moot-Levin, one of the film’s producer/directors, and Matt Probst, one of the healthcare providers featured in the film.

The discussion will focus on the importance of storytelling to inspire more collaboration and innovation to improve health.

“In making our documentary, we saw firsthand the struggles and triumphs of these small-town healthcare heroes,” Moot-Levin said. “We are thrilled to partner with National Rural Health Day to share a glimpse of their worlds in this story driven, social change effort.”

Organizers also hope that the event will draw others into healthcare professions in rural areas.

“National Rural Health Day is a day for calling attention to the fact that rural America is a beautiful place not just to visit, but to live and to work as a health professional,” Eisinger said. “We also want to highlight that rural America is leading in innovation, and that providing high-quality care is the shared priority of our nation’s 1200+ Critical Access Hospitals and estimated 4,500 Rural Health Clinics. Also, while health disparities do exist, every State Office of Rural Health, along with their partners and stakeholders are working very hard to address these.”

Research indicates that 69 percent of rural and frontier communities are designated as Rural Health Professions Shortage Areas.

For health professionals, living and working in rural areas may provide challenges, but also has many benefits she said.

“It really is a place where mission minded health professionals can care for generations of family members, to know they are needed, respected and appreciated and to have real insight into how to help their patients get and stay healthy not just within the walls of their clinics or hospitals but within the context of their whole community,” Eisinger said. “Rural healthcare providers are called upon to serve a broad range of their patients’ needs and are not pigeonholed into a narrow scope of work.  They’re given an opportunity for leadership not just within their practices but within schools, civic organizations in small towns across the country.”

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