The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Rural Health marked its 50th anniversary on November 16, coinciding with National Rural Health Day. Over the course of the 2022 fiscal year, this office served over 618,000 patients in rural communities and maintained 240 contracts. The economic impact of the office amounted to $53 million, including $25 million in employee compensation.
One of the key initiatives run by the Office of Rural Health is its Community Health Worker Training program, which was launched in October 2014. This program is designed to train and provide rural communities with healthcare practitioners. Maggie Sauer, the director of the program, emphasized that it is the first of its kind in the nation and has been instrumental in addressing rural healthcare challenges. In fact, a North Carolina Community Health Worker Summit was organized as part of this effort to bring together policymakers, community members, and health workers to discuss these challenges.
George Pink, the deputy director of the North Carolina Rural Health Research Program, highlighted another major challenge facing rural areas across the United States: a shortage of primary care practitioners. According to Pink, this shortage affects almost all rural areas and has significant implications for public health outcomes. He also noted that rural residents are 40 percent more likely to be uninsured than their urban counterparts and are eligible for Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). However, despite these challenges, there are a range of federal programs and loan repayment initiatives designed to incentivize healthcare professionals to work in rural areas.