Branstad raises awareness of rural health issues


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In Iowa, 90 percent of the state is considered rural and almost half of Iowa’s population lives in rural areas — and Gov. Terry Branstad has decided to raise awareness about the issue.

Branstad signed a proclamation Thursday designating Nov. 21 as Rural Health Day 2013. The proclamation is intended to raise awareness about health issues in rural areas as well as to honor the small-town communities in rural Iowa.

Particular issues faced by rural communities are a lack of health-care providers, an aging population, slowed response times, and increased percentages of uninsured or underinsured residents. Also, farm injuries often require specialized training and equipment, another challenge faced by rural residents.

“The proclamation brings awareness of people’s attention to half the population living in rural communities and giving good quality health care to people in those communities,” said Mariannette Miller-Meeks, the director of the Iowa Department of Public Health. “Our rural areas are wonderful places to live, work and raise families, and part of that is to keep those people healthy.”

Miller-Meeks said the intent of National Rural Health Day is to call attention to different approaches for addressing the health needs of rural communities and to engage health-care providers into rural areas for providing services.

“Issues specific to rural areas are access issues,” said Gloria Vermie, the director of the Office of Rural Health at the Iowa Department of Public Health. “You don’t just go across town to get to a hospital, and of course there are fewer practices and especially specialists.”

Because Iowa is largely a rural state, there are a high number of various volunteer units compared with professional units, which add concern about keeping up with proper training and equipment.

There are roughly 144 certified rural clinics in Iowa. Vermie said those clinics receive extra funding from Medicare to make sure Medicare recipients have primary-care access throughout the state.

“The fact that we have a large rural population and a national reputation for giving very good care in rural areas [is good],” Vermie said. “Every dollar spent those rural hospitals and clinics generate about $2.20 for the local economy. They are often times an economic foundation for their community.”

Vermie said that while signing the health-day proclamation does not make problems go away, it does help attract attention to the issue.

Branstad communications director Tim Albrecht wrote in an email that health care has been a top priority of Branstad’s throughout his administration. One of the governor’s goals, he said, is to make Iowa the healthiest state in the nation.

“Unfortunately, too often Iowa’s rural areas are lacking the access needed in order to acquire health-care services,” Albrecht said in the statement. “In his condition of the state address this year, Gov. Branstad made rural health care a top priority.”

Steve Swenka, who farms near Tiffin, said being close to a mecca of hospitals and clinics in Iowa City is beneficial as a farmer.

“Being a Johnson County farmer, we’re a little bit spoiled to the effects of really accessible medical care,” he said. “Farming injuries sometime involve a unique set of circumstances that rescue personnel may not necessarily be equipped to deal with in urban setting.”

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