Rural health and hope

A recent report from the CDC discussing the higher mortality rates in rural versus urban areas in the US caught my eye since I practice in a very rural area. The county where I practice is one of the most rural and poorest counties in Indiana. The report says that age related death rates due to five of the leading causes of mortality; heart disease, stroke, chronic lung disease, cancer and unintentional injury; are higher in rural areas and have decreased less than in urban areas. This was not surprising to me. The reasons were also not surprising. Rural areas have higher rates of smoking, obesity, and alcohol and drug abuse. In my experience these things are related to both poverty and the culture and they are very difficult to change.

The report addresses some things the health care system can do to address these issues and some of those may be effective, but this is more than just a health care issue. It is a societal and spiritual issue. Hopelessness plays a major role in the high rates of smoking, obesity, and drug abuse in rural areas. This is where the church can play a major role. Reaching out to the hopeless and helping them to see that they can have hope can change people’s lives. Some people from a local church decided to do something. They saw this pattern of hopelessness repeating itself for generations and chose to try to help children who were already failing early in grade school. They have developed an after school program for children identified by the public school as those who are falling behind in reading. They help them with their reading skills, but also help them know that they are loved by both those in the program and by God, and help them learn how to get along in a group setting and care about each other. After 2 ½ years the students are doing better than anyone expected and their families are being impacted.

Justice in healthcare is important and we need to improve how our healthcare system meets the needs of the underserved in rural areas and urban areas. Even more than that, we need to help people have hope. That is where the church can play a major role.

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