Project updates, commentaries, events and news about health across the nation from the County Health Rankings & Roadmaps team.

Allen Smart on the Role of Investment in Rural Health and Problems Rural Communities Face

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Typically, people living in urban areas rate their health more highly and are less likely to die prematurely than those living in rural Americans.

The County Health Rankings & Roadmaps program spoke with Allen Smart, Chair of the Roadmaps to Health Advisory Group, about the insights he gleaned on the state of rural health from a recent meeting on public and private investment in rural health care held at the White House. Smart, who also serves as the Health Care Division Director of the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust, recognized that this meeting was the first time funders with a rural focus met with federal officials responsible for addressing challenges in rural communities. He shared that there seemed to be a heightened level of commitment to collaboration and understanding of working together with government to tackle issues faced by rural communities.

Major challenges for those working in rural health include lack of resources, small and dispersed populations, and unstable economic infrastructures. Recruitment and retention issues with medical personnel, particularly physicians, also present ongoing concerns for many rural areas.  Smart believes these issues require leaders to think outside of the box and that exploring regional approaches may be more effective when addressing the wide ranging concerns many rural communities face.

In addition to the systemic challenges that exist, rural communities are also dealing with the need for higher wage jobs, increased economic opportunity, and access to quality K-12 education. Smart acknowledged those working in rural health are still trying to make significant inroads in the social determinants of health. Smart also shared insights on his organization’s Healthy Places North Carolina, a $100 million investment in 10-15 financially disadvantaged, rural North Carolina counties. The 10 year initiative will support locally led efforts to improve the health and overall quality of life for people living in these rural areas.