Challenges of rural health care get a closer look

David Wahlberg, the health and medicine reporter at the Wisconsin State Journal, has embarked on a project to examine “the challenges of providing health care services to rural communities.”

The first piece of the series focuses on the doctor shortage in rural areas as well as programs intended to help full the gap. There are a number of sidebars about aspects of the doctor shortage, including one about a hospital that employs a doctor with a felony conviction. That hospital’s CEO says, “But in a rural market like this, you can’t not consider keeping him.”

The second piece looks at the aspects of rural life that hinder good quality, consistent health care. The story cites doctor shortages, hospitals that don’t perform specialized services and an abundance of patients who are poor, elderly or have little or no insurance as factors that make health care in rural areas precarious.

The fragile, fragmented care in rural settings is thought to be responsible for a startling mortality gap nationwide: The death rate, adjusted for age, dropped only slightly in rural America the past two decades while declining significantly in cities, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Wahlberg said in an e-mail that he expects future installments to come roughly once a month.