The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Rural Health marked its 50th anniversary on November 16, coinciding with National Rural Health Day. Over the past year, this office has made a significant impact on rural healthcare in North Carolina, serving over 618,000 patients and maintaining 240 contracts.
Director Maggie Sauer emphasized the importance of the office’s work, noting that it was the first of its kind in the nation and runs a training program for healthcare workers called the Community Health Worker Training. This initiative aims to address the shortage of primary care practitioners in rural areas by training healthcare practitioners specifically for these communities. The North Carolina Community Health Worker Summit was organized as part of this effort, bringing together policymakers, community members, and health workers to discuss rural healthcare challenges.
Deputy director George Pink highlighted another significant issue facing rural communities: the shortage of primary care practitioners across the United States. This shortage is particularly acute in almost all rural areas, making it difficult for residents to access essential medical care. To address this issue, the federal government offers a range of programs and loan repayment initiatives to incentivize healthcare professionals to work in rural areas.
In addition to these challenges, rural residents are also more likely to be uninsured than those living in urban areas. In fact, they are 40 percent more likely to be uninsured overall. However, Medicaid expansion is set to become effective on December 1st and could help address some of these issues by expanding access to healthcare for eligible residents who may not have had it before.
Overall, the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Rural Health has been instrumental in addressing some of these challenges over its past 50 years and continues to work towards improving access to healthcare for rural residents across North Carolina and beyond.