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Adventist Health’s year round efforts for rural health

Spirit, Together inspired, Community Connections

Rural Health Month is a time to both celebrate successes and bring awareness to the health needs of the rural community, which are often strikingly different from the needs of those in an urban community. Factors including economic status, cultural and social norms and a wide-spread geographic area can present challenges to both patients and care providers.

Did you know that the Department of Health and Human Services recommends a provider-to-patient ratio of one primary care physician to every 2,000 individuals, but that in rural areas the current average is closer to one to 3,500 plus? The rural population represents about one-sixth of United States citizens, but is located over 80 percent of the geographic area. That means this population is spread out over an enormous area of land, and that can make both providing and accessing care challenging. Adventist Health has created a few initiatives in order to reach patients in a more accessible and effective manner.

Diabetic Retinopathy Screening: Retinopathy is a condition that affects the blood vessels in the retina of the eye and is frequently experienced by those living with diabetes. Retinopathy can cause severe vision impairment or even complete vision loss. The struggle with diagnosis is that retinopathy typically doesn’t present symptoms until the vision has already been compromised. It’s recommended that those with diabetes see an ophthalmologist once a year, but this can be challenging for patients in a rural area. Only a few of these specialists practice in rural areas, so access is limited. Additionally, patients can find it difficult getting to appointments, as they are frequently far from home.

Adventist Health saw an opportunity to expand their offerings for patients at risk of retinopathy. Since those with diabetes typically have regular primary care appointments throughout the year, adding the retinopathy screening to one of those appointments is a significant step forward — eliminating the need for an additional appointment and distant travel to an ophthalmologist. The screening has been performed in over 300 visits at select Adventist Health clinics, and doctors reported that 20 percent of these diabetes patients were experiencing some level of retinopathy which required further monitoring and care. By adding these vital screenings to their primary care, Adventist Health is preserving and treating the vision needs of their patients.

Children’s Mobile Immunization Program: Addressing childhood health and wellness in our communities is a top priority for Adventist Health. In partnership with First 5 Kern, Adventist Health launched and continues to run its own children’s mobile immunization program. This is the only program in the Central Valley offering free vaccinations to uninsured or underinsured families with children under the age of 18. The program has made a major impact — providing 89,692 patients with some 235,914 vaccines at more than 3,000 immunization locations.

The colorful, roving Children’s Mobile Immunization Program RV can be seen throughout Bakersfield and surrounding communities, including rural areas of Lamont, Arvin and Delano, in various locations and at health events. With a schedule publicized throughout local schools, churches and community centers, even families lacking transportation are able to get their children the vaccines required to attend a public school and live a healthy life.

Local Cancer Treatments: A cancer diagnosis is already difficult to manage, but in a rural area it can mean so much more. Travelling hours to receive treatments at cancer centers can be incredibly challenging, critically reducing the amount of restful recovery patients need and increasing stress. Adventist Health has adopted the 98 percent rule, where rural facilities provide nearly all of a patient’s comprehensive cancer care, with the remaining percentage potentially requiring travel for highly-specialized services reserved for a very small population of patients.

Sending patients away for treatment takes them away from their community and support systems, adding an additional toll both physically and mentally. By providing a large percentage of treatments at the local level, rural hospitals like Adventist Health can positively impact the outcome and wellbeing of their patients receiving cancer treatments.

Rural Health and Our Mission

Our patients and communities are important to us. Adventist Health strives to provide programs that speak to the specialized needs of the rural areas in which we are located and help us achieve our mission to “live God’s love by inspiring health, wholeness and hope” every day. While we do this work year-round, we wanted to take a moment on National Rural Health Day to recognize the hard work of our providers and staff in providing these programs and to honor our patients who allow us to serve them.