Letter to the Editor: The importance of rural health

Nov. 19 is National Rural Health Day, an opportunity to celebrate the “can do” spirit of our rural communities. On this day, we honor the unselfish, community-minded determination of our rural healthcare providers. This day is also an opportunity to focus on these communities and the unique challenges they face – finding ways to take care of their own, dealing with hospital and clinic closures, a dwindling healthcare workforce, and declining revenues.

Gary Nelson
Gary Nelson

And despite challenges in rural infrastructure, poverty, unemployment, education, transportation, and a changing demography, those who deliver rural healthcare in our state demonstrate what is possible through collaboration, professional dedication, entrepreneurship, and volunteerism. Georgia’s rural healthcare workforce has become the great equalizer when facing the persistent inequities in health that penalize rural Georgians. Every day, their heroic efforts demonstrate the delicate relationship between the health of one and health of all.

At Healthcare Georgia Foundation, we firmly believe that one’s health should not be determined by the person’s place of residence or ZIP code. Rural Georgians, on average, are older, sicker, and poorer than urban residents and find themselves each day relying on a severely compromised healthcare system. If ignored, Georgia’s healthcare delivery system is at risk of collapsing on the shoulders of frail rural communities.

The existence of two Georgias, one with, and one without, better health and healthcare should not be tolerated. While our state continues to focus on who has access to care, the quality of care, and who is going to pay for care, we believe the more urgent discussions about health outcomes should be focused on the approximately 20 percent of our population who proudly call rural Georgia their home. The conditions in which rural Georgians live, work and play are powerful determinants of their health and well-being.

Because of the ever-shifting healthcare landscape, our rural communities are poised to become once again an incubator of promising new approaches to effective, sustainable and affordable healthcare. And yet they face daily challenges: For each hospital or clinic that closes, or the departure of a community’s only healthcare provider, there are devastating financial consequences for the community. These are losses for which there may be no recovery.

National Rural Health Day is an opportunity to bring to light the challenges and the opportunities that rural Georgians face and to showcase the efforts of our rural healthcare workforce. Whether it’s the care coordination efforts in Spring Creek Clinic in Colquitt, the innovative use of telemedicine in the delivery of emergency services in Sumter County, or the engagement of community health workers and “promotores” in Dalton, there are countless examples of rural communities seeking to preserve, protect and promote healthy living.

We salute these, and countless other heroes, as they champion for better health and healthcare for our underserved communities!

Gary Nelson, Ph.D.
Healthcare Georgia Foundation