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National Rural Health Day Highlights North Dakota's Challenges

North Dakota health experts are using National Rural Health Day to spotlight the state's unique challenges. Credit: Grafixar/Morguefile.com
North Dakota health experts are using National Rural Health Day to spotlight the state's unique challenges. Credit: Grafixar/Morguefile.com
November 19, 2015

BISMARCK, N.D. - Today is National Rural Health Day and for North Dakota's health-care providers it's a chance to put a spotlight on the state's unique challenges.

About 40 percent of the state's population lives in rural areas. According to Brad Gibbens, deputy director of the Center for Rural Health at the University of North Dakota, many of those people are facing a different set of health issues than their urban counterparts.

"Rural America tends to be older, it tends to be poorer, it tends to have less health insurance coverage and it also has a higher level of chronic disease," says Gibbens.

According to recent research from the Pew Charitable Trusts, North Dakota is far below the national average when it comes to the number of addiction counselors and the state's suicide rate has jumped more than 70 percent in recent years.

But even in light of those problems, Gibbens says rural North Dakotans also are coming up with unique local solutions to help combat those health problems together.

"We've seen, particularly in the general-wellness area, community working to create bike paths, doing contests in the community where we're going to lose x-amount of pounds for the whole community over the course of a year," says Gibbens.

Still other challenges remain. Like most other predominantly rural states, North Dakota has fewer hospitals and doctors per person than larger urban areas. With more than 55 rural hospitals having closed nationally over the past five years, Gibbens says that problem is becoming more important. That's because hospitals provide not only health services, but jobs.

"A typical rural hospital in North Dakota has an economic impact of roughly $6 million or more," he says. "It typically creates roughly 180 to 220 jobs for that community."

Brandon Campbell, Public News Service - ND