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Health Deserts Plague Rural Areas but Specific Programs are Addressing Needs

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Rural Health Day is November 15 and it’s designed to throw a spotlight on health care problems facing rural areas and some of the solutions being proposed.
Currently, over 60 million Americans live and work in rural areas. That equates to nearly one in five Americans or 20 percent of the population. Yet, many health issues facing rural communities are still unresolved.
Local hospitals are closing in large numbers, doctors are disappearing from rural regions, and certain medical conditions such as pregnancy and obstetric issues, cardiac problems and strokes are underserved close to rural homes.
Some doctors, however, are fighting to bring more physicians to rural areas and Randall Longenecker, MD is leading the charge. He is a Professor of Family Medicine and Assistant Dean for Rural and Underserved Programs at the Ohio University Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine. He personally served as a rural physician in Western Ohio for 30 years.
He is spearheading programs to bring more doctors and more facilities back to rural communities. At Ohio University, he has developed the Rural and Urban Scholars Pathways Program that prepares medical students to practice in rural regions or underserved urban centers.
He also is the Executive Director of the RTT Collaborative, “a national non-profit cooperative of rural programs to sustain health professions education in rural places, providing technical assistance to developing and existing programs. He also works with Rural PREP, a collaborative for rural primary care research, education and practice.”
Dr. Longenecker cites one major rural problem is the loss of hospital facilities and specialties in rural areas. From 2004 to 2014 more than 200 rural hospitals have closed their obstetric services, according to the University of Minnesota Rural Health Research Center.
The Medicare Payment Advisory Commission reported to Congress in June that 67 rural hospitals closed in 2013 and about one third of that number were more than 20 miles from the next closest hospital.
Dr. Longenecker notes that Ohio has more people living in rural areas than all but four other states and has more physicians than most states…but not in the needed rural regions. Last year, Ohio “ranked 36 of 50 and gets a D- from the Rural Health Quarterly in rural primary care,” Dr. Longenecker says.
He and the Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine are trying to improve those numbers by training and recruiting young doctors to practice in our rural regions. He is optimistic that the programs he is affiliated with will be successful in providing more rural physicians.
For more information about problems and solutions facing rural health go to