About AHCJ: General News
AHCJ holds first Rural Health Journalism Workshop Date: 05/04/08
By Pia Christensen
Association of Health Care Journalists
About 75 people gathered in early May for AHCJ's first Rural Health Journalism Workshop to explore the special issues facing people living in rural areas, such as limited access to health care providers and pharmacies and a lack of resources.
Al Cross, director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, moderates the opening session.
Journalists listened to experts on panels that dealt with diabetes, visual and dental health, challenges in getting health care workers to practice in rural areas, immigration, aging, how Medicare affects rural health care and more.
During the opening session, an overview of rural residents and their health, one unexpected topic was trauma care. While it has always been an issue in rural areas, it is exacerbated by the declining state of volunteer ambulance services in many rural communities, according to Dennis Berens, director of Nebraska's Office of Rural Health.
Many rural areas have high rates of diabetes, which can lead to other medical complications and disease. David Templeton of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette was the panel's moderator and, as a Type 1 diabetic, he brought personal insight to the discussion. He was diagnosed when he was 11 and has lived all his life in a rural county, but "Not once was I ever asked to take a diabetes education course. . . . Diabetes requires self-management."
Edwin Fisher, Ph.D., program director of the Diabetes Initiative, talked about diabetes self-management in rural communities, including Richland County, Mont., on the North Dakota border, and among migrant farm workers in southwestern Arizona.
David Gardner, M.D., with the University of Missouri, emphasized the role of genetics in the development of diabetes. He noted that it is a disorder, not a disease, and is not just related to blood sugar; other factors that need treatment include blood pressure, cholesterol and other compounds that harm the body. "It's important that we recognize this as a genetic disease made worse by our environment - too much food, not enough exercise." Gardner said the closing of supermarkets in rural areas has made proper food harder to find and reduced the quality of diets. He said too many stories over-emphasize the role of obesity in diabetes: "Don't blame the patients in your stories, and at the very least, show the patients hope."
Patricia Thomas, Knight Chair in Health and Medical Journalism at the University of Georgia, discusses rural populations and topics journalists should cover.
Patty Johnson, a diabetes nurse educator with the University of Pittsburgh Diabetes Institute, works in three rural counties in the southwest corner of Pennsylvania that have high rates of amputation resulting from diabetes. She noted that rural counties increased 70 percent in population from 1990 to 1999 and that many immigrants are settling in rural communities, especially from Hispanic and Asian populations.
Centro Latino de Salud in Columbia, Mo., serves the growing rural immigrant population of mid-Missouri by providing translation and guidance in navigating the available health resources, according to director and founder Eduardo D. Crespi.
In a panel on dental and visual health, Dewana Allen, from Indiana University's School of Optometry's Eye Care Community Outreach, pointed out that the health of the eye is a barometer of the health of the body. Diabetic eye disease, for example, often serves as the first sign of illness in diabetics. According to Allen, rural populations have a higher prevalence of chronic conditions and insufficient access to health care services. She cited geographic isolation, socio-economic status, health risk behaviors and limited job opportunities as contributing to health disparities in rural communities
Dan Brody, a dentist based in Fort Gay, W. Va., described himself as a "wet glove" dentist who treats patients several days a week. He said he was ostracized when he described dental health in his state as being worse than that in several third-world countries.
The workshop, held May 2-4 in Columbia, Mo., was planned as a counterpart to AHCJ's Urban Health Journalism Workshop.
Al Cross, director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, contributed to this article.