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Mon, Nov 16, 2015 at 12:00 AM

Rural Health Week in Alabama

Governor Robert Bentley has proclaimed the week of November 16 through 20 as “Rural Health Week” in Alabama.

Governor Robert Bentley has proclaimed the week of November 16 through 20 as “Rural Health Week” in Alabama. This recognition is to make Alabamians more aware of the vital importance of our rural areas and the serious struggle that these areas have in getting and keeping adequate health care.

Many people make the mistake of thinking that since our rural areas have smaller populations, they are not as important as more urban areas with larger numbers of people. This is far from the truth. Rural areas are the providers of the vast majority of materials, resources, and necessities, such as food, that everyone must have in order to survive. Having healthy and vibrant rural areas is important to everyone.

There is a very strong relationship between good health care and economic opportunity. An area without good health care is not very competitive with other areas for economic opportunity and growth. Perhaps the greatest evidence of this is the fact that 24 rural Alabama counties have smaller populations today than they had over 100 years ago in 1910. In addition, 33 Alabama counties, all rural, are projected to have less population in 2040 than they had in 2010. Too many young residents of rural areas are being forced to go elsewhere to develop careers following college or technical training.

Rural health care does not only provide service for rural residents. We never know when we or someone that we care very much for will be in a rural area and suddenly be in need of health care. The presence of adequate local health care throughout Alabama provides faster access to care that can be of vital importance.

Additional indicators of the serious need for adequate rural health care include the following:

  • Alabama has the 3rd highest death rate among all 50 states and the rate is 11 percent higher for our rural residents than urban Alabamians.
  • Life expectancy is three years less for Alabamians than for the nation – 3 ½ years less for rural Alabamians.
  • In 1980, 45 of the 54 rural counties in Alabama had hospitals that provided obstetrical service.
  • Today only 17 of these 54 counties have such service available and this service is scheduled to be lost in Chambers County at the end of this year.
  • The loss of hospitals that deliver babies is greater in the 12 counties comprising the Black Belt Region.
  • In 1980, 10 of these 12 counties had hospitals providing obstetrical service.
  • Today only one county (Dallas) has this service available.
  • Only two rural counties (Coffee and Pike) are recognized by the federal government as providing the minimal primary care service that is needed.
  • None of the 54 rural counties provide minimal dental service for low-income (Medicaid) patients.
  • None of the 54 rural counties provide minimal mental health service.
  • Thirteen rural Alabama counties do not have a dialysis clinic in the county.
  • The motor vehicle accident death rate for rural Alabamians is nearly 56 percent higher than that for our urban residents and more than double the national rate.

Alabama is economically dependent upon its rural areas and our rural areas must have adequate health care to meet this need. During this special week of recognition for rural health, express your support for measures and policies that can strengthen rural health care in Alabama.