Today, we celebrate National Rural Health Day in Maryland. This day of awareness has been proclaimed by the National Organizations of State Office of Rural Health (NOSORH), to showcase the good work of America’s 62 million rural health care providers and to promote the efforts of our State Offices of Rural Health and other partners in addressing rural health concerns.
Rural Maryland remained resilient during the pandemic; however fundamental challenges remain. Many rural Marylanders lack access to services and health care facilities. Many communities experience significant shortages of workers.
These challenges are particularly acute in mental, dental and specialty care. Transportation including non-emergency medical care also presents a challenge to rural Marylanders who find it difficult to reach medical services. There is very little public transportation available in rural areas.
Ironically, due to the pandemic, we have made progress on the solutions to these challenges. The pandemic showcased the delivery of services electronically through telemedicine.
Programs were expanded to include telehealth services and residents became more comfortable with this alternative delivery method.
During this year’s Maryland General Assembly legislative session, access to telehealth and audio only medical services were expanded through the Preserve Telehealth Access Act of 2021 sponsored by Sen. Melony Griffin and Del. Josaline A. Pena-Melnyk (SB3/HB123).
Another bill adopted included SB102/HB1252, sponsored by Sen. Addie Eckardt and Del. Sheree Sample-Hughes, which expanded tax credits for preceptors in areas with health care workforce shortages.
Regarding transportation, our rural communities are innovators. Thanks to funds made available by Gov. Larry Hogan and the Maryland Legislature through the Rural Maryland Prosperity Investment Fund, this issue is being addressed by the Wheels to Wellness (W2W), in Calvert and St. Mary’s counties, with plans to expand to Charles County soon.
So far, the program has travelled up to 15,000 miles each year in Calvert and St Mary’s counties assisting those in mostly rural areas who cannot provide their own transportation to medical appointments.
We thank our rural health care workers who are so vital to our rural workforce, our rural economic development and our communities. We thank Hogan for his support and proclamation in recognition of National Rural Health Day.
Executive Director, Maryland Rural Council