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News Brief

Jan. 2, 2024 |  By: Farah Siddiqi - Public News Service

Report: Rural Missouri needs more health care attention, investment

hospital room

By Farah Siddiqi - Public News Service

About one-third of Missouri is considered rural, and people who live there often have health challenges. The latest research suggested overlooking rural areas has major consequences.

new report from the Missouri Rural Health Association outlined the need for continued investment in rural Missouri.

Katie Reichard, director of government affairs for the Missouri Primary Care Association, said many factors contribute to worse health outcomes in rural communities but access to care is at the top of the list. Community health centers help close the gap, seeing patients no matter their ability to pay, and helping those who might otherwise end up at hospitals for nonemergency needs.

"You don't have to go to the hospital for a toothache or strep throat; a community health center can provide those services to you, "Reichard explained. "It's on a sliding fee scale and so, it's income-based. Also, they cover behavioral health services, a lot of them cover women's health services, and all of them cover primary care and dental."

According to the report, for the first time ever, Missouri recorded more deaths than births during the pandemic. It caused a 19% increase in deaths for Missourians overall, and decreased overall life expectancy by more than two years.

Heidi Lucas, executive director of the Missouri Rural Health Association, thinks investing in rural areas of the state is imperative not only for Missouri, but for the nation.

"Rural Missouri is America's breadbasket," Lucas pointed out. "We have some of the highest producers of grain and cattle in the entire country, so we really need to take care of folks who are living in rural Missouri, because they are providing for America, widely."

Missouri is home to more than 95,000 farms, the second-highest number in the U.S. It's also the second-largest producer of hay and is second-highest in the nation for beef, with more than 2 million head of cattle.

Lucas added while the report identifies areas of concern, there are many solutions.

"Upping broadband to have more telehealth services; reducing restrictions on providers so that they're able to provide more widely to the full extent of their education and training; finding preceptors for nurses or physicians; getting transportation taken care of, to get there," Lucas outlined.

Lack of affordable health care affects more than farmers' personal health, according to a Missouri Rural Crisis Center report. It also causes financial strain and delays in farm investments.