It’s National Public Health Week and today’s focus is Rural Health. Malheur County has nearly 9,900 square miles and 31,700 people, for an average of 3.2 people per square mile. About half of our population live in the cities of Nyssa, Ontario, and Vale. The other half live in more rural areas across the county. Much of our focus in public health is on addressing the disparities experienced due to inequities, such as living farther away from health care and other services.
Fourteen percent of Americans live in rural areas. Rural Americans have higher rates of cigarette smoking, high blood pressure and diabetes. Compared to urban residents, they are at higher risk for poor health outcomes because of the range of health disparities they face. Racial/ethnic minorities and tribal groups are at higher risk for poor health outcomes, compared to non-Hispanic white adults. These health disparities include poverty, food deserts, also known as food apartheid, exposure to specific environmental hazards and less time for leisurely physical activity. People living in rural areas have less access to health care because of fewer providers and facilities and more transportation barriers. They are also not as likely to have health insurance. These factors play a part in the greater risk of death from heart disease, cancer, stroke, chronic lower respiratory disease and unintentional injury from motor vehicle crashes and opioid overdoses that rural residents face.
Children living in rural areas also face greater challenges with their development, mental health and behavioral health. Youth working on farms are at higher risk of injuries. They are 7.8 times more likely to die because of a work injury compared to youth in other jobs.
Improve mental and physical health and community involvement by creating activity programs and modifying local areas like parks and playgrounds and creating walking trails and protected bike lanes. Increase access to health facilities and other public resources by arranging transportation services using volunteer rideshare, public buses and scheduled vans. Provide mentoring, counseling, vocational training and college prep for underrepresented students. Advocate for easier access to and training and authorization of first responders to use naloxone. Push to expand medical school training to include skills to successfully practice in rural areas. Increase the availability of the internet to support telehealth services for more accessible healthcare. Work with federally qualified health centers that deliver care to all patients – with or without insurance.
There are effective strategies that have been tested in multiple studies and have worked in rural communities. School breakfast programs help reduce food insecurity and improve student diet, health and academic achievements. Research also shows that vocational training for adults and high school students help strengthen the health workforce available in rural communities and set residents on a path to succeed in and improve their communities. School-based health care and dropout prevention programs also help high school students achieve academic success. Increased access to naloxone and training to administer it can also bring a decrease in fatal opioid overdose rates.