Today (Nov. 21) is National Rural Health Day. The third Thursday of November is set aside each year by the National Organization of State Offices of Rural Health (NOSORH) to celebrate the efforts of rural healthcare providers, State Offices of Rural Health, and other rural stakeholders to address the healthcare challenges facing rural America.
This year, that celebration includes NOSORH’s publication of a booklet highlighting 44 “Community Stars” of rural health care. Among them is Tim Baty, a student at the New York Institute of Technology College of Osteopathic Medicine at Arkansas State University in Jonesboro. Baty grew up in Widener and wants to practice medicine in rural Arkansas.
The day also is an opportunity to bring attention to rural health challenges. These include access issues, a shortage of healthcare providers, a population that tends to be older, larger percentages of uninsured and underinsured citizens, inconsistent funding for rural health centers, and increasing financial pressure on rural hospitals.
ACHI’s website now features an interactive map identifying hospitals that, since 2010, have closed in Arkansas and the five neighboring states that, unlike Arkansas, have chosen not to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. The map shows that while more than 50 rural hospitals have closed in the neighboring states for financial reasons during that time, only one rural hospital has closed in Arkansas.
However, Arkansas’s one hospital closing shows that the state is not immune to the financial constraints facing rural hospitals. ACHI Health Policy Director Craig Wilson has written about the fraying fabric of rural hospitals in an op-ed for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.