TWIN FALLS, Idaho — November 19 marks National Rural Health Day, bringing more recognition and awareness of what healthcare is like for people living in rural communities.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, one in five Americans lives in a rural area. Despite those numbers, many people struggle to receive necessary medical treatment. The main problem is the limited amount of resources smaller clinics may have.
"Typically a patient is going to be seen by either a family medicine physician or some other type of general practitioner. If they need some specialty care, they will either have to go to a larger city or they'll have to wait until a traveling specialist comes to their location," explains Dr. Lauren Nesbit, a graduate of the WWAMI Regional Medical Program and first-year resident at St. Luke's Magic Valley.
While residents of these communities may face a lack of resources or a facility for their specific treatment, they are not the only ones facing issues.
"It's a tough time for rural hospitals and rural clinics. Funding has been cut significantly, and a lot of our critical access hospitals across the nation have closed so it's really unstable. All it takes is one or two doctors leaving town, or nurses, and sometimes you can't staff a hospital," says Dr. Mary Barinaga, Assistant Dean for WWAMI Regional Medical Program.
To try and create a solution to these ongoing issues within rural communities, National Rural Health Day also sets out to inspire the next generation of rural community-based physicians.
"We need students from rural areas to go into healthcare professions. Whether it be dentistry or nursing or medicine, then go back to practice in those communities," said Dr. Barinaga, also a family physician in Boise.
Although COVID has created problems for the majority of the nation over these past months, rural care facilities have also had their fair share of troubles. But they've also been able to take away some positives which could benefit rural communities and its residents in the future.
"More people have access to telehealth or video medicine visits now. So if you are an established patient with a specialist, a lot of the time, you can just talk to them over the phone or via webcam or FaceTime, and they can see you that way instead of making a big trek to go see a specialist," said Dr. Nesbit.