November 17, 2011
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Governor McDonnell Proclaims November 17th as Rural Health Day in Virginia
Health Officials Stress Importance of Rural Health to Virginia’s Vitality
(Richmond, Va.) Recognizing that the health of Virginia’s rural communities influences the overall health of the Commonwealth, Governor Bob McDonnell declares today, November 17, “Rural Health Day” in Virginia.
“While access to health care and a healthy workforce are critical to the well being of every community, improving rural health requires innovative strategies that address individual health-related behaviors as well as the economic, geographic and social determinants of health,” said State Health Commissioner Karen Remley, MD, MBA, FAAP. “Virginia has implemented many such strategies, including enhancements to its broadband infrastructure. This is a critical building block that facilitates the ability for rural Virginians to use telehealth and telemedicine to improve access to care and health education and information.”
Life expectancy in many parts of rural Virginia is significantly lower than the rest of the Commonwealth. Research shows that income levels influence health behaviors and health outcomes. According to U.S. Census data, the poverty rate in rural Virginia is 44 percent higher than the rate in metropolitan Virginia. The rural health districts in Southside, far Southwest, and the Eastern Shore of Virginia are key examples of the relationship between poverty and health. These rural health districts experience some of the highest rates of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, stroke, cancer mortality and obesity in the Commonwealth.
Lower income levels contribute to higher rates of uninsured people; reduced access to quality drinking water and sewage disposal, emergency medical services and educational opportunities; and greater difficulty recruiting and retaining health professionals. In addition to lower income levels, other factors such as increased exposure to occupational and environmental hazards related to agriculture and mining, limited access to healthy foods, and transportation and geographic challenges create barriers to achieving optimal health in rural Virginia.
Information detailing these strategies and recommendations for addressing these challenges can be found in Virginia’s State Rural Health Plan, developed by the Virginia Department of Health’s Office of Minority Health and Health Equity. The plan is the result of an ongoing collaborative effort with numerous statewide partners focusing on emerging rural health needs.