Rural America is an amazing place to call home. That’s why nearly 20 percent of the country’s population live and work in rural communities. However, all too often we find ourselves bemoaning the disparate health outcomes of rural America – lack of primary care providers, decreasing life expectancy and the threat of hospital closures.
For those residing in the Mississippi River Delta and the Alabama Black Belt, these are ever-present realities. For instance, 249 of the 252 counties and parishes in the Delta Regional Authority’s service area are either fully or partially classified as Health Professional Shortage Areas by the Health Resources and Services Administration. Since 2010, 38 rural hospitals in DRA’s eight states have been closed, a loss of more than 1,400 beds.
While these are realities that must be addressed, it is incumbent on those serving rural areas to highlight the many innovative and collaborative partnerships being forged to address these pressing issues. That’s why DRA is proud to join the National Organization of State Offices of Rural Health to “celebrate the power of rural” on National Rural Health Day. Observed every third Thursday in November, the day highlights the unique health care challenges facing rural communities and how rural stakeholders are trying to address them. The day serves as a reminder of the selfless, community-minded spirit that prevails in rural America.
DRA exists to support the economic advancement of the 10 million residents who call the Delta home, including their access to health care. Since 2018, DRA has invested over $3.3 million on 15 projects to update rural medical facilities and partnered on over $6.3 million in health care-related workforce development. Additionally, DRA implements three programs specifically focused on improving health care access and health systems within the Delta.
Through a partnership with the Defense Department and the military’s reserve forces, DRA sponsors annual Innovative Readiness Training missions in Delta communities to bring medical, dental and optical care to uninsured or underinsured populations. The program improves military readiness by providing trained military medical personnel with in-field emergency response training while simultaneously providing quality health care services to Delta residents at no cost. The next IRT mission will have sites simultaneously occurring next summer in Louisiana, Mississippi and Arkansas, and we expect to see a record number of patients.