Tom Morris, Associate Administrator for Rural Health Policy, Health Resources and Services Administration, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
For anyone with an interest in rural health, clear your calendar on November 16th and help celebrate National Rural Health Day, a day to celebrate and lift up the work of doctors, nurses, clinics, hospitals, and other stakeholders working in our rural communities.
For the 12th year in row, falling on the third Thursday of November, the observance features the opportunity to talk about how rural communities—often against the odds—find ways to help the 61 million Americans living in rural America get the health services they need (HRSA 2022).
National Rural Health Day (NRHD) is the brainchild of the National Organization of the State Offices of Rural Health (NOSORH). The event had humble beginnings when in 2011, Karen Madden, the director of the New York Office of Rural Health, noticed the calendar was full of celebratory weeks for public health, community health centers, and assorted clinician groups but no day spotlighting rural health. Surely, she thought, within the 365 days of a year there should be at least one day dedicated to a national conversation about rural health and the important work being done across the country.
This annual event aligns perfectly with the work we do at the Federal Office of Rural Health Policy (FORHP), located in the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA). HRSA, which operates within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), is dedicated to providing equitable health care to the nation’s highest-need communities, and FORHP serves as the focal point for rural health work across HRSA and within HHS.
Coordinating activities related to rural health care within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) for over 30 years, FORHP has department-wide responsibility for analyzing the possible effects of policy on the 61 million residents of rural communities and provides grant funding at the state and local levels to increase access to high quality health care.
For those of us at FORHP, every day is rural health day, but NRHD provides an even bigger platform to talk about the importance of rural health and to highlight the work we fund across the country through supporting rural hospitals, Rural Health Clinics and Community Health Centers, and helping to address the opioid epidemic, just to name a few. It also provides a forum to highlight ways HRSA is bringing more clinicians to rural communities through programs such as the National Health Service Corps and Nurse Corps as well as the Rural Residency Planning Grants to expand physician residency training in rural communities.
In 2015, NOSORH added a new feature to NRHD by creating the Community Stars program, which allows states and communities to nominate rural health champions who are then part of an annual publication lifting up their work. This served as a great way to expand the scope of NHRD and focus directly on the local champions who do the heavy lifting to improve health in their rural communities. This is work we see every day through programs like the Rural Health Care Outreach Program and the Rural Community Opioids Response Program. In all of these programs, we see the essence of what NRHD is all about.
Now firmly entrenched in the calendar, NRHD plays an important role in presenting a fully fleshed out view of rural health care—including the challenges. Consider just a few:
- Rural communities face significant health disparities, with higher mortality and lower life expectancy from the five leading causes of death (CDC 2023).
- Rural areas have long struggled to recruit and retain needed clinicians (HRSA 2023).
- Rural communities face the ongoing challenge of rural hospitals closure as well as the loss of rural hospital obstetric services (Sheps Center 2023; March of Dimes 2023).
- There are emerging gaps in rural health equity (Rural and Minority Health Research Center 2023).
Rural health care challenges, though, are just one part of the story. There is a much larger and important narrative that needs just as much attention. The other important part of the rural health care story illustrates how creativity, collaboration, and partnerships are a defining characteristic of how our small towns and geographically isolated communities do their best to connect people to care.
That is the essence of what National Rural Health Day does. On this day, we get beyond the numbers, the gaps, and the missing pieces. We focus on the people who are the connective tissue between our institutions and their communities.
With each year, the scope and impact of National Rural Health Day has grown. We make it a big day in the Federal Office of Rural Health Policy, joining with colleagues from across the Health Resources and Services Administration, as well as our sister agencies, the Indian Health Service, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, and the Agency for Health Care Research and Quality. The National Institutes of Health does an annual research seminar. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also host NRHD events. Last year, the President issued a proclamation in support of National Rural Health Day.
There are so many events now that we can’t fit them all into one day, so we space them out over the week.
This observance provides all of us with a great opportunity to celebrate the folks working to improve health outcomes and health care access in our rural communities. This year’s celebration also offers Grantmakers in Health (GIH) Funding Partners a chance to join the party. We know GIH Funding Partners care about these issues because we’ve been partnering with many of you for the past 12 years through the National Rural Health Philanthropy Partnership. This public-private collaborative provides a forum for our federal programs to learn from private sector efforts and for philanthropies with an interest in rural health to learn more about what is happening in the federal space.
Joining to celebrate National Rural Health Day is easy, thanks to the many tools and resources provided by NOSORH. Philanthropies can hold their own events or partner with their State Offices of Rural Health. GIH Funding Partners can also nominate their own Community Stars from their funded projects. Philanthropies can take part in virtual chats, host a webinar on their successful rural programs, and promote the day to their rural partners.
Philanthropies are an ideal NRHD partner because of their connection to communities. They are well aware of the challenges but also part of the solution through their funded projects. NRHD provides another forum to share the impact of those programs and how they’ve improved the health of rural communities across the country.
No one tells that story better than those who work every day to improve health in rural America. Those stories can help broaden the traditional view of rural communities from what they lack to what they can do through partnership and support.
See you on November 16th as we mark National Rural Health Day together and celebrate rural success stories.
- Health Resources & Services Administration (HRSA). “Defining Rural Population.” March 2022.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). “Leading Causes of Death in Rural America.” April 21, 2023.
- Bureau of Health Workforce, Health Resources & Services Administration (HRSA). “Designated Health Professional Shortage Areas Statistics.” September 30, 2023.
- Cecil G. Sheps Center for Health Services Research, University of North Carolina. “Rural Hospital Closures.” 2023.
- March of Dimes. “New March of Dimes Research Shows Access to Maternity Care Worsening for Million of Women in the U.S.” August 1, 2023.
- Rural and Minority Health Research Center. “Availability of Healthcare Infrastructure in Minoritized Racial/Ethnic Groups.” Rural Health Research Gateway, July 2023.