New Texas Institute Aims to Improve Rural Health

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It is a well known fact that where we live plays a vital role in our health, and those who live in rural areas struggle to access quality healthcare.

Rural residents are more likely to die from heart disease, cancer, respiratory disease, stroke, and unintentional injuries than their urban counterparts.

In Texas, more than 3 million people live in rural areas, and are more likely to be uninsured, have lower incomes, and higher rates of death from preventive chronic diseases.

The Center for Optimizing Rural Health, part of the Texas A&M Rural and Community Health Institute, aims to change all that.

Center for Optimizing Rural Health

Texas A&M University has been chosen as the sole recipient of a five-year grant, which will fund the Center for Optimizing Rural Health, according to a press release.

The grant comes from the Vulnerable Rural Hospitals Assistance Program, funded by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Nancy Dickey, MD, A&M Rural and Community Health Institute executive director, president emeritus of the Texas A&M Health Science Center and principal investigator on the grant funding. Photo: Texas A&M University Health Science Center

“This new center is a flagship component of our commitment to rural population health,” said Carrie L. Byington, MD, vice chancellor for health services at The Texas A&M University System, senior vice president of the Texas A&M University Health Science Center and dean of the Texas A&M College of Medicine said in the press release. “It will bring Texas A&M’s rural health care expertise and [that of academic centers] around the nation together to benefit these communities.”

Hospital deserts and lack of access to maternal/obstetric healthcare are a national crisis.

In Texas:

  • 35 counties have no physician
  • 80 counties have five or fewer physicians
  • 58 Texas counties…have no general surgeon
  • 147 Texas counties…people have no obstetrician/gynecologist
  • 185 Texas counties…have no psychiatrist

“We still have an American concept that every town should have a hospital,” said Nancy Dickey, MD, Texas A&M Rural and Community Health Institute executive director, president emeritus of the Texas A&M Health Science Center and principal investigator on the grant funding, said in a press release. “But the growing reality is that it’s not cost effective. The good news is there’s a menu of alternatives that can help optimize healthcare for a rural community, not shut down healthcare in that community.”

The Center will select five communities per year for five years for on-site assistance.

Additionally, the Center will offer intense virtual assistance to 25 rural hospitals and/or healthcare organizations around the country annually.

Another solution to access healthcare in rural areas: telemedicine.

Telemedicine assists people in rural communities connect with geographically distant providers.

Yet, telemedicine comes with it’s own challenges, like lack of access to quality broadband in rural areas.

Transportation and internet access are major issues in health care access. In Texas, the problem might have to do with distance, while in northern states it may be due to snow, but some of the same solutions could apply to both,” Dickey said. “We can help create policy at the national level when we start to see trends. In this way, the center will give us a much more powerful voice for some of the needs of rural health care and create better opportunities to solve them.”

 

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