Why Rural Primary Care Matters
The evidence clearly shows that access to primary care helps people live longer, healthier lives. In communities with more primary care providers per person, death rates for cancer, heart disease and stroke are lower, and people are less likely to require hospitalization.
According to a 2014 study reported in the rural health series in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, the percentages of potentially preventable deaths were higher in rural areas than in urban areas. Some studies even suggest that access to primary care could eliminate as many as 127,617 deaths per year in the United States.
There are significant disparities in rural health rooted in several demographic, environmental, economic and social factors. Residents of rural areas in the United States tend to be older and sicker than their urban counterparts. They have higher rates of cigarette smoking, high blood pressure and obesity. They also have higher rates of poverty, less access to healthcare, and are less likely to have health insurance, putting them at a higher risk of death. They also report less leisure-time physical activity and lower seat belt use than people living in urban areas.
The coronavirus pandemic has alerted the nation to the dire access problems that have long plagued rural communities where approximately 46 million Americans (15 percent of the US population) live and work and highlighted the fragility of the rural health system.
Financial & Training Assistance
A fusion of financial and training assistance is needed to help health centers and primary care practices in rural areas. The Primary Care Development Corporation (PCDC) offers both financial and training assistance to help rural communities combat the inequalities facing rural residents for improved patient outcomes and lower healthcare costs.
Financial solutions include the Transformation Loan Fund, which provides loans in amounts of $100,000 to $2 million. It is available to healthcare and other community-based providers specializing in care and services for underserved communities in the US. The New Markets Tax Credit Financing (NMTC) program, by the Community Development Financial Institutions Fund (the CDFI Fund) under the US Department of the Treasury, also supports the economic revitalization of low-income, economically-distressed communities nationwide.
PCDC was also recently re-designated as the Lender Coordinator for the Health Resources and Services Administration’s (HRSA) Health Center Facility Loan Guarantee Program (LGP), which can guarantee more than $880 million in new loans to health centers. One of the success stories of this program is PrairieStar, a health center in rural Kansas. The center needed to increase its facility’s size to meet the needs of the community but was unable to procure a loan in the amount required. Working with PCDC, PrairieStar was able to leverage the HRSA loan guarantee to secure long-term financing from Prairie Bank of Kansas for the full amount it needed.
Rural America has also experienced an increase in substance abuse and overdose deaths in the past several years. Opioid use, in particular, is a significant issue. An epidemic of opioid overdoses in rural Connecticut created an urgent need for the Community Health and Wellness Center of Greater Torrington (CHWC) to expand its services to address the crisis. A partnership with PCDC that provided financing enabled the facility to launch an opioid treatment program and hire additional, highly-trained staff, as well as expand other health services.
Better Health Outcomes & Cost Savings
Countless studies illuminate that access to quality primary care can help people live longer. Areas where there are more primary care providers per person have lower death rates from cancer, heart disease and stroke, due in part to routine screenings and early detection. In many rural areas with limited access, people are diagnosed in later stages, making them more challenging to treat successfully. People in these situations are more likely to seek care in emergency rooms and be admitted to hospitals.
Access to primary care helps keep people out of emergency rooms, where care costs at least four times as much as other outpatient care. Receiving annual check-ups makes it easier to catch and treat problems early, making it less expensive than treating severe or advanced illnesses.
The PCDC portfolio of low-cost financing and its team of experts is helping change the rural healthcare landscape to build vibrant, healthy rural communities.