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National Rural Health Day Puts Focus on Small-town Care

One of the biggest challenges for rural medical facilities is recruiting doctors who want the small-town life. Credit: skeeze/pixabay.com
One of the biggest challenges for rural medical facilities is recruiting doctors who want the small-town life. Credit: skeeze/pixabay.com
November 19, 2015

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. - Today is National Rural Health Day and in Arkansas, "rural" would describe many of the medical practices across the state.

It may seem unlikely at first that the U.S. Department of Agriculture is involved with health care in Arkansas, but David Kirchner, USDA community program specialist, says it's an important part of the agency's work offering loans and grants to help support the essential functions of small-town life.

"These rural-health providers not only provide the day-to-day, vital health care services, but they tend to also be the largest employers in our rural communities," says Kirchner. "So, it's very important for us to be there, visibly, to help them financially with the needs they have."

He notes rural hospitals rely disproportionately on government funding, due in part to their small size and higher percentage of Medicare patients. More than 55 rural hospitals have closed in the U.S. in the last five years alone, creating a care shortage in some areas.

Kirchner says in much the same way that the USDA helps with loans and grants for individual and farm labor housing in rural areas, it also partners with private lenders to finance hospital improvements and medical equipment.

"Most of our projects, we involve the local lenders in those communities, whether they provide the interim financing for, say, a new hospital facility, or they may also provide part of the financing in connection with ours," he says.

One of the biggest challenges facing rural communities, in Arkansas and elsewhere, is recruiting medical professionals to fill the hospitals and clinics. Only 10 percent of physicians in the U.S. practice in rural areas.


Jeff Stein, Public News Service - AR