The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Rural Health recently marked its 50th anniversary on National Rural Health Day. During the 2022 fiscal year, the office served over 618,070 patients in rural communities across the state and had a total of 240 contracts. Additionally, the office maintains several health centers in rural communities in North Carolina.
The economic impact of the office during this period was significant, with a total of over $53 million spent during the 2022 fiscal year. Of that amount, $25 million was paid out as compensation to employees.
Maggie Sauer, director of the Office of Rural Health, said that her office is the first of its kind in the country and has played an important role in providing healthcare services to rural communities in North Carolina for decades. One such initiative is the Community Health Worker Training program, which operates through North Carolina community colleges and helps rural communities train and find practitioners who can serve them effectively in rural areas of North Carolina.
George Pink, deputy director of the North Carolina Rural Health Research Program, highlighted a critical issue facing rural healthcare in America: a shortage of primary care practitioners across almost all rural areas nationwide. According to a recent report by NCDHHS, rural residents are 40% more likely to be uninsured and eligible for Medicaid expansion, which will take effect on December 1st. Pink explained that while there are various federal programs designed to encourage primary care physicians to practice in rural areas, addressing these issues requires coordinated efforts from policymakers, community members, and health workers alike to work towards sustainable solutions for rural healthcare needs.