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True Grit: What it Takes to Provide Rural Health Care that is Responsive to Local Needs

True Grit: What it Takes to Provide Rural Health Care that is Responsive to Local Needs

Thanks to best-sellers, studies, and TED talks, qualities such as grit and resilience are now broadly viewed as essential to the success of any endeavor. That’s good news for Mainers living in some of our state’s most rural areas, because our passion, perseverance, and ability to overcome hardship are embedded in our cultural DNA. 

More than a year ago, MeHAF began to explore strategies to promote the health of Maine’s rural residents and advance the transformation of our rural health systems.  We launched the initiative because we’ve witnessed dramatic changes occurring in health care—especially in rural areas—and recognize that preserving local access to care may best be achieved through a collaborative process of re-imagining rural health care delivery that engages many different community perspectives. We spoke with a number of concerned leaders in rural communities across the state and developed a goal of promoting a collective vision of regional rural health systems that ensures the availability of high-quality, affordable care when and where it’s needed. 

Toward this end, MeHAF commissioned the compilation of a wide body of existing information about the health status of rural populations, the location of health care infrastructure—along the entire spectrum from behavioral and oral health to EMS and public health—and social services, as well as indicators of economic health in rural Maine.  The result is the recent publication of Maine Rural Health Profiles. This report, which offers a detailed look at the status of rural health and the rural health system, is available as a single statewide summary and as 16 individual county profiles. 

The economic indicators are of particular importance because rural hospitals and health services are significant community and regional economic engines. Reductions in the volume and payment for services are putting significant financial pressure on rural hospitals, community health centers and local providers as well as larger health systems, of which many rural hospitals and primary care providers are a part. Loss of such facilities can have a major impact on other local businesses and services, so change must be considered within this larger context. 

Prepared by the Maine Rural Health Research Center, a part of the University of Southern Maine’s Muskie School of Public Service, the Maine Rural Health Profiles uses a combination of narrative and maps to discuss and illustrate both the degree of rurality in each county and how the data reported reflect rural health challenges and opportunities.  It provides critical data and information to apprise stakeholders and inform conversations about building a health system that is responsive to the health and health access needs of rural communities. 

Pick up a paper copy of the report and learn more on November 10th, when The Maine Health Access Foundation hosts Advancing Rural Health Transformation at the Cross Center in Bangor where we will discuss and explore innovations and promising approaches toward designing more resilient rural health care systems.  You are invited to join us for this free event, but hurry! Registration closes October 26.  Click here for more details.

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