Healthcare Access in Appalachia

Rural areas around America have an issue with accessing health and dental care. There are several parts of Appalachia designated as medically underserved which means there are too few primary care providers, high infant mortality, high elderly population, and a high poverty rate. The major factors for the lack of access are low income, geographic isolation and poor education of available programs. The lack of healthcare facilities in the region combined with the isolation means it can take hours for some families to reach a hospital.

Due to this lack of access, people may often go long periods of time without visiting a healthcare professional for checkups because they do not feel ill. This allows diseases without highly uncomfortable initial symptoms to become worse. For instance, diabetes is one of the worst diseases to affect the area, and is another issue that the Appalachian region faces disproportionately compared to the rest of the US. The CDC performed a study on how the knowledge and perception of diabetes is limited in the region using focus groups comprised of 16 counties in West Virginia. The lack of knowledge of the symptoms and causes of diabetes leads to the diagnosis of diabetes during visits for other problems.

Childbirth mortality rates are also elevated in the region compared to the rest of the US. There is a need for education on pre-natal healthcare for expecting mothers. In areas that have this access, children are generally healthier at birth and healthier throughout life.

Despite the difficulties, there are efforts and progress being made to provide people with medical and dental coverage. For example, in Nelson County Virginia, a medically underserved community, we worked with Virginia Community Capital to help fund the much needed Blue Ridge Medical Center (BRMC) expansion. The investment into BRMC greatly increased the amount of people served each year and allowed BRMC to move their dental facility from a single-wide trailer into a brick and mortar facility.