Today is National Rural Health Day! This is a great chance to recognize the essential contributions our rural hospitals and clinics offer their communities throughout the year. In Washington State, rural hospitals deliver essential access to medical services through high-quality, community-driven care. In my work with WSHA, I am honored to support our rural hospitals in providing compassionate care to their patients and serving their greater communities.
Seventy-five percent of Washington State is rural, and rural hospitals serve 15 percent of the population. For many Washingtonians, their local rural hospital is key to accessing health care. And health care services are essential to building vibrant, healthy communities.
Like much of the nation, rural Americans are experiencing the devastation wrought by the opioid crisis. Half of Americans living in rural areas say they personally know someone who has struggled with opioid addiction, according to the recently released “Life in Rural America” report by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
In the face of this crisis, it is key that rural hospitals have the data needed to effectively treat patients. At WSHA, we are working hard to deliver this information. Last year, WSHA, along with the Washington State Medical Association and the Washington State Health Care Authority, launched the program “Better Prescribing, Better Treatment.” The program offers access to prescribing data to reduce opioid overprescribing to Medicaid patients, using evidence-based practices.
“Better Prescribing, Better Treatment” has already had a positive impact. As of October 2018, the program has reduced opioid prescriptions beyond Medicaid prescribing guidelines for new states by almost 70 percent. And, Medicaid opioid prescriptions for acute pain have been reduced by almost 30 percent.
The opioid crisis has overwhelmed rural communities across Washington, but there is also room for hope. National Rural Health Day is an important opportunity to remember the challenges facing rural communities, and to support rural hospitals in addressing such issues. Rural Americans possess a unique strength and perseverance, as do their hospitals. I am grateful for the opportunity to continue dedicating myself to developing programming and services to support our members and communities in rural Washington.
Jacqueline Barton True
WSHA Director of Rural Health Programs