Today, November 21, is National Rural Health Day! To celebrate, we wanted to explore the history of rural health and some of its current challenges.
Most of America is defined as rural by the United States Census Bureau; nearly 97% of the country’s land area is in rural counties. However, only 60 million people, roughly 19.3% of the population, live in these rural areas. It was in the 1920 Census that more than 50% of the population (51.2%) reported living in an urban area. That trend has only accelerated and is true across the country.
Much is made of the economic condition of small, rural towns, but how is their health? As it turns out, rural Americans are beset by multiple conditions that all foster and compound poor health. Adults living in rural areas tend to be older, sicker, and poorer than their urban counterparts. There are higher rates of risk factors like smoking and obesity, and higher rates of chronic conditions like diabetes. More than 50% of rural counties have no hospital-based obstetric services. More than 2,000 rural communities have only one pharmacist; for many, that pharmacist is the only local healthcare provider. More than that, over 113 rural hospitals have closed since 2010, leaving their surrounding communities without many health services and a large employer.
Today, rural health clinics play an outsized role in providing care to rural residents. Located in medically underserved areas, these providers exist to fill gaps in care and treat those who would not have any other local options. The Iowa Association of Rural Health Clinics (IARHC) advocates for, trains, and supports rural health clinics across the state. Without rural health clinics, Iowans would likely have to drive miles for even the simplest conditions, making medical care ultimately more expensive and less accessible.
The number of patients and visits to rural health clinics increases year after year. Today, we celebrate the quality care that rural health clinics provide to patients in Iowa and across the country.