The Garden City Telegram
12/7/2013
OPINIONS AND COMMENTARY

Country care

Rural parts of the state stand to gain from plan.

Kearny County will play an important part in a project designed to improve access to health care.

The county was among four communities selected to participate in a pilot program of the Kansas Rural Health System Improvement Project, an endeavor intended to help rural areas find ways to help residents access quality, long-term health care.

Funding — possibly $150,000 over the next three years — would be available to Kearny County for planning and implementation of a plan.

The United Methodist Health Ministry Fund in Hutchinson, which organized and will fund the project, reportedly sought "energetic, forward-thinking rural communities" in selecting Kearny County along with Cheyenne County, Clark County and a collaboration of Osborne, Phillips and Smith counties.

Program organizers also acknowledged the demographic shift in a declining and aging population in central and western Kansas, and financial challenges of health care providers.

Rural residents often have trouble accessing basic health care services because there are too few medical care providers. The poor, elderly, minorities and children in those areas are particularly vulnerable.

When a task force of community leaders starts meeting to tackle health care needs and challenges in Kearny County, a number of issues warrant attention.

One would be recruitment and retention of rural physicians, as it's often difficult to convince a doctor to consider a rural practice over the quality of life bigger communities can offer.

Knowing aspiring physicians don't always settle on rural locales, those hoping to improve the health-care landscape also must pursue and support other ways to serve rural areas in a prudent way: the expanded use of telemedicine, for example.

Such technological initiatives should continue to help medical professionals reach patients who may need the attention of a specialist not available in the immediate area.

While the Kansas Rural Health System Improvement Project will help Kearny County focus on its own needs, benefits of the exercise should reach much farther.

Every rural community stands to gain from findings of a project designed to improve access to health care. For that reason, all of western Kansas has cause to be heartened by the development.