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Knocking Down Barriers to Health Care in Rural Counties

The National Organization of State Offices of Rural Health (NOSORH) has set aside the third Thursday of every November to celebrate National Rural Health Day (NRHD). NRHD showcases the efforts of health care organizations like AFMC, which are devoted to addressing Social Determinants of Health (SDOH) and the unique challenges rural citizens face. This blog discusses the importance of supporting our rural communities and ways providers and community members can celebrate NRHD.

What are Social Determinants of Health?

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Social Determinants of Health (SDOH) are “the conditions in the environments where people are born, live, work, play, worship, and age that affect a wide range of health, functioning, and quality-of-life outcomes and risks.” SDOHs are divided into five categories: economic stability, education access and quality, health care access and quality, neighborhood and built environment, and social and community context.

Each of these factors affects a person’s ability to live a healthy lifestyle. In Arkansas, some families suffer from lack of transportation, racism, discrimination, violence, low income, limited access to nutritious foods and physical activity opportunities, limited language and literacy proficiency, and many other SDOHs that affect their ability to meet their health care needs. As health care workers throughout the state are beginning to realize the correlation between SDOH and poor health outcomes, more organizations like AFMC are working with providers to limit the barriers that prevent people from accessing equitable health care services.

National Rural Health Day

NRHD falls on November 17, 2022, this year. NRHD is an opportunity to “Celebrate the Power of Rural” by honoring the community-minded spirit that prevails in America. Nearly one in five Americans (about 57 million people) live in rural communities. Though these people live in small farming communities and frontier areas, they provide vital services and commodities to the rest of the country. Despite being so valuable to the rest of the country, these small communities often face unique health care challenges that often seem to be overlooked. Many people in these communities face critical issues, including a lack of health care providers in their area, a larger aging population suffering from chronic illnesses, larger percentages of uninsured and underinsured citizens, and a lack of reliable transportation.

NOSORH recognized rural communities' challenges and set aside a day for organizations and rural stakeholders to address SDOH. Over the years, NRHD has gone from a day-long event to a sustainable movement with thousands of supporters. NOSORH has developed multiple resources supporters can use to join the movement.

Virtual Community

The official NRHD hashtag, #PowerofRural, had nearly 14 million impressions during the week of NRHD in 2021. This averaged about 66 tweets per hour. A Twitter chat titled “#RuralHealthChat: Digital Equity and the Health of Rural Americans” had over two million impressions. AFMC has joined this virtual community and will post pictures of our employees wearing green to show our impact in rural communities. On November 17, 2022, we will post these pictures on our social media page with the hashtag #ARGreenforRural. Other providers and organizations can join the virtual community by posting pictures of their impact in rural areas with the NRHD hashtag or their own hashtag.

Presidential Recognition

President Biden officially declared November 18, 2021, National Rural Health Day in a presidential proclamation to provide $8.5 billion to rural health providers to "keep their doors open and continue responding to the COVID-19 pandemic." This added to the funding these communities already received under President Biden's administration, whose framework is to Build Back Better. You can read the full proclamation here.

Virtual Learning Opportunities

Primary care physicians (PCP) play a huge role in addressing SDOH and helping reduce the barriers to health care in rural communities. PCPs are often on the front lines and may be more aware of patients’ needs outside of health care. Thus, PCPs must understand initiatives they can take to address SDOH and help their patients who live in rural areas. To help educate PCPs on how they can support rural communities, NOSORH partnered with the Rural Medical Education Collaborative to develop a free virtual continuing medical education (CME) event called Rural Health Clinical Congress. 564 PCPs attended the event in 2021. This event will take place on November 19, 2022. Registration is open now.

NOSORH also distributes an annual e-book called Community Stars that tells inspiring stories of people and organizations that make a difference in their communities. NOSORH gave out 100 nominations in 2021, and the book honored 50 Community Stars from all 50 states. While 2022 nominations have closed, many Arkansas providers and organizations would be eligible for nomination in 2023. NOSORH’s FAQs page should help answer any questions regarding nomination.

NRHD Promotional Toolkit

NOSORH also provides a toolkit with many resources providers and organizations can use to promote NRHD. These tools are free and specifically designed for community stakeholders, hospitals, clinics, first responders, elected officials, nonprofits, civic organizations, and anyone who wishes to join the Power of Rural celebration. Anyone can use these tools to enhance outreach and bring attention to our rural communities. These tools include fliers, calendars, postcards, table tents and more.

More Ways to Celebrate

NOSORH also provides other ways to celebrate. They offer ideas for state offices and rural health stakeholders, hospitals and providers, community members, teachers and schools, and small businesses to all celebrate the power of rural. Whether it's something small (a hashtag on social media, wearing an NRHD t-shirt or offering a discount code NRHD23 for 10% off purchases) or something more significant (a donation to a local rural health organization's volunteer corps, hosting a conference on NRHD or launching a community-wide project), everyone can celebrate NRHD and help to knock down the barriers that keep others from receiving the health care services that they need.

Providers, stakeholders and community-based organizations have a responsibility to help all citizens receive equitable access to health care. While we have made progress in Arkansas, many people in our communities still struggle to live healthy lives due to factors often beyond their control. NRHD is a day to come together, support our small-town communities, raise awareness and join the movement to address SDOH within our state and across the nation. Visit this link for more information on NRHD and help enhance Arkansas health care providers' impact in our state.

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Eldrina Easterly

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Chris Hughes

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Mobile: 501-553-7651

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