Since late January, when the story broke about the upcoming closure of the maternity ward at the Grand Marais hospital, I’ve been thinking a lot about pregnant women, clinicians, and hospital administrators in Grand Marais, and in other rural communities in Minnesota and beyond. For pregnant women in rural areas and for all individuals seeking care, both access and patient safety are necessary components of effective health care systems. They are not negotiable. In order to better understand how to ensure both access and safety, we need to start with relevant information for understanding both capacity and need for care in rural communities.
Approximately 20 percent of the U.S. population lives in a rural area, but only about 10 percent of the nation’s physicians are practicing in rural areas. Of the 2,050 rural U.S. counties, 77 percent are designated as health professional shortage areas. A report from the Minnesota Department of Health highlights the workforce challenges and clinician shortages in Greater Minnesota. And this is important, because rural Americans suffer worse health outcomes than those in urban areas, having higher rates of death, disability and chronic disease.