Have you ever seen one of those bumper stickers? – If you’ve eaten today, thank a farmer! That’s because the milk and milk products in the dairy aisle and most of the fresh produce you find in the supermarket, especially during the Summer and Fall, come from the rural communities of Western New York. In those communities, people rise at the crack of dawn to prepare and plant fields in the Spring and work all night to harvest crops in the Fall. They tirelessly care for the livestock that provides us with the milk, meat, and eggs we need for our kitchen tables. And while these communities produce the food that we all need to live, they also face some unique challenges.
On November 18 we celebrate Rural Health Day. Not just a day, but a movement to recognize the health needs of rural communities and gather the resources necessary to meet them. Rural communities struggle with accessibility to adequate healthcare, a lack of healthcare providers, an aging population suffering from a greater number of chronic health conditions, and a larger percentage of un- and under-insured people. Additionally, rural hospitals face declining reimbursement rates and disproportionate funding as they struggle to keep their doors open. As part of the healthcare system, behavioral health treatment poses similar challenges in rural communities, including lack of transportation to service, lack of providers, lack of resources or access to adequate levels of care, and stigma.
At Spectrum Health and Human Services, we are proud to serve the rural communities of Western New York providing CCBHC (Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinic) services, Housing, ACT programs, Crisis Intervention, and Health Homes. We provide these services to plug some of the gaps in the rural healthcare system and meet the needs of underserved populations. We are also proud to partner with the Rural Area Health Education Center (R-AHEC), a non-profit facilitation resource that creates community partnerships to educate and place health care professionals in underserved areas. The agency serves 11 counties in the Western and Central region of New York State. On several occasions Spectrum Health has partnered with R-AHEC to raise awareness, reduce stigma, and provide community education on physical and behavioral health issues, as well as provide education on mental health and trauma care to prospective medical professionals.
At Spectrum Health our efforts to meet the needs of rural communities is ongoing as we seek grants and other resources to improve accessibility and provide a broader array of services. We serve as a message board for reducing stigma, emphasizing the importance of physical and behavioral health, and ensuring that people are linked with good quality care. As we celebrate Rural Health Day and recognize the need for improvements to our health system, I am reminded of another bumper sticker: Support Your Local Farmers.
Managing Director of Clinical Services
Wyoming County Counseling Center, Spectrum Health and Human Services