The Dark Side of Our Peaceful Mountain Life: Rural Health in America

We live in a unique part of the state. Although technically Gilpin, Jefferson, Clear Creek and Boulder counties are considered urban, often we face health issues traditionally viewed as rural. (http://www.commonwealthfund.org/publications/newsletters/transforming-care/2017/march/in-focus?omnicid=1187163&mid=vernamd@ubhc.rutgers.edu)

Rural America faces higher levels of smoking, diabetes, coronary heart disease and suicides. Additionally rural folks (who have a lower life expectancy then urban counterparts) are more likely to die of the top 5 leading causes of death—heart disease, cancer, unintentional injuries, chronic lower respiratory disease, and stroke. Additionally physician to person ratio is lower and uninsured rates are higher. Isolation is a key factor as 53% of rural folks have no internet access and 40% lack public transportation (but rely on it more). Although the population in rural America is decreasing overall, it’s becoming more diverse and aging with a higher percentage of senior citizens.

Throughout our country rural communities are trying (and succeeding!) at innovative programs. High school kids in Appalachia invented a prototype app, 5-5-5, that encouraged people daily to drink 5 glasses of water, eat 5 fruits and vegetables, and walk 5 minutes. Medicaid providers in Oregon committed to funneling 98% of their funding back into the community to support county-wide health initiatives. Southeastern Colorado created the Health Navigator program to address the issue that nationwide 50% of Medicaid expenses come from 5% of the recipients. After assigning the highest-needs patients a Navigator to offer transportation, coaching, accompaniment, etc., recipients health improved (e.g. less emergency room visits), and costs dropped.

What can we do? First, recognize the incredible community work from our own people. Whether it’s an art opening at the Library, the annual health fair, or our tireless school staff who initiates everything from musicals to basketball, we are lucky to have such an active, vibrant community! Take some time to go to a new event, volunteer, drag one of your neighbors with you, or start something new (monthly dinner group or book club anyone?).