Rural communities in the United States face a host of problems when it comes to access to health care. In rural Arizona, challenges include fewer health professionals, hospitals and clinics, and a higher percentage of the rural population that is uninsured and elderly.
[Photo: Dr. Daniel Derksen (right)]
When rural hospitals close, as happened in Douglas, Ariz., last year, it affects not only the health professionals who lose their jobs. It has a catastrophic economic impact on the health infrastructure in the community, such as the pharmacy and nursing home, and on individuals having to travel long distances to get needed health care.
In response, the University of Arizona Center for Rural Health at the UA Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health has been improving the health and wellness of rural and vulnerable populations in Arizona for more than 35 years. As a federally designated State Office of Rural Health, the Center will receive federal and matching state funds totaling $3.4 million to continue its mission over the next five years.
“The Center is ideally suited to serve as Arizona’s State Office of Rural Health,” said Dr. Daniel Derksen, professor and chair of the Community, Environment & Policy Department, and director of the Center for Rural Health. “Arizona and our nation face great challenges in transforming our health system to improve health outcomes, enhance access to high-quality and cost-efficient health care, and assure coverage of health services. This funding will allow us to leverage support to improve rural health care in Arizona.”
The Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) awarded the five-year $860,000 grant, and the state matches funds ($2.58 million) to support the Arizona State Office of Rural Health (AzSORH) program. The Federal Office of Rural Health Policy HRSA grants help strengthen rural health care delivery systems by maintaining a center for rural health in each state. The program funds an institutional framework linking rural communities with state and federal resources to develop long-term solutions to rural health problems.
Funding allows the Center for Rural Health to: Establish and maintain in Arizona a clearinghouse for collecting and disseminating information on rural health-care issues, research findings, and innovative approaches to the delivery of rural health care; coordinate rural health activities and avoid redundancy; and identify federal and state rural health programs, and provide technical assistance to public and nonprofit private entities.
“Access to quality and affordable health care should not be determined by where you live,” said Jennifer Peters, the Center’s rural program manager. “The Center and our State Office of Rural Health program have been a long-serving and consistent voice for Arizona’s rural health care system, including the most geographically isolated and underserved communities in the state.”
The University of Arizona Center for Rural Health is housed in the University of Arizona Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health and serves Arizona through its mission to improve the health and wellness of rural populations. In addition to its Arizona State Office of Rural Health (AzSORH) program, the Center houses the Rural Hospital Flexibility Program (AzFlex), the Small Rural Hospital Improvement Program (AzSHIP), the AzCRH Navigator Consortium, and the Western Region Public Health Training Center.