Eastern States Board Working Group on Rural Health assesses need, plans strategic action

Headshot of Bob Pepper
Robert “Bob” Pepper

Eastern States Board member Robert Pepper chairs the board’s Working Group on Rural Health, and knows firsthand that inequities in rural communities can be stark.

“I’ve seen it, witnessed it through the eyes of those folks who are trying to do the best they can,” said Pepper, Retired SVP and CAO, NGK Sparkplugs U.S.A., Charleston, WV. “When you live in the heart of Appalachia, you can’t avoid understanding the impact of those issues that are related to rural health.”

Addressing the unique health needs of people in rural America is critical to achieving the American Heart Association’s new 2030 Impact Goal for equitably increasing healthy life expectancy nationwide. Innovative approaches are needed to improve rural health, and more scientific research is needed to identify which approaches work best. Our recently-issued Presidential Advisory calls on health care and other stakeholders at the local, state and national levels to collaborate in efforts to address the needs of rural populations.

Eastern States SVP, Health Strategies Bill Thompsen said, “We have some of the lowest Healthy Life Year Expectancy (HALE) statistics in certain rural communities within Eastern States, and although we have been working to address rural health issues for some time, the Presidential Advisory and our Board working group has shined an even greater spotlight on the need to expand access to improved healthcare and preventative measures in rural communities that need our help. I appreciate the Eastern States Board of Directors for stepping up and establishing this Rural Health Working Group.”

The working group met last week, and will meet again in New York next week. Pepper said the working group’s first objective is to “Really provide a strong assessment of the status of rural health in the Eastern States region, knowing that it’s a huge region, with a lot of different areas, all of which will necessarily have their own unique components.”

The group will seek to define, “What areas of rural health strategy are working well, so that we can perhaps see where they may be transferable to other locations. As important, we’ll look to determine where we are struggling with strategy—what are the issues that are not getting the attention, not getting the results,” said Pepper. The assessment will allow the board to begin prioritizing a series of recommendations on rural health.

According to Pepper, current obstacles rural communities face include lack of access to quality healthcare, lack of transportation, lack of hospitals, lack of available services, and educational inequities. Pepper stressed that improving rural health will be complex, and require a long-term commitment of resources.

“These will be difficult solutions to implement for a variety of reasons. We need to make sure that people have equitable solutions–rural healthcare has to be equitable. It shouldn’t matter whether you are poor, it shouldn’t matter whether you are in a rural community, we should make sure that we provide equitable healthcare for everyone; that’s what this is all about,” said Pepper.

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