105: Rural Health Needs

ASTHO and associations representing epidemiologists, counties, cities, and public health labs issue a statement supporting jurisdictions moving away from universal case investigation and contact tracing at this point in the pandemic; Dr. Ayne Amjad,...

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ASTHO and associations representing epidemiologists, counties, cities, and public health labs issue a statement supporting jurisdictions moving away from universal case investigation and contact tracing at this point in the pandemic; Dr. Ayne Amjad, West Virginia’s State Health Officer, is optimistic about the future of rural health, one of ASTHO’s top ten policy issues to watch in 2022; Governors from several states joined Washington, D.C.’s mayor at a virtual congressional hearing to discuss the latest pandemic response; and ASTHO announces job openings.

ASTHO Statement: The Transition Away from Universal Case Investigation and Contact Tracing for Individual Cases of COVID-19 by Public Health Agencies

YouTube page: House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis

ASTHO Health Policy Prospectus: Rural Health – State Investment in Healthcare Infrastructure

ASTHO Blog Article: ASTHO Policy Watch – Health Equity and Rural Health

ASTHO webpage: Careers at ASTHO

ASTHO logo


This is Public Health Review Morning Edition for Wednesday, January 26th, 2022. I'm Robert Johnson. 
Now, today's news from the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials. 

The nation's leading public health groups have come together to support jurisdictions moving away from universal case investigation and contact tracing at this point in the pandemic. ASTHO and associations representing epidemiologists, counties, cities, and labs all agree that a more strategic use of these tools is warranted given the need to stay flexible in response to the evolving COVID-19 virus. 
You can read the full statement using the link in today's show notes. 

Also, several governors and Washington DC's mayor discussed the latest pandemic response during a virtual hearing of the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis.
ASTHO's Devon Page monitored the Congressional hearing and offers members an update. 
I think there was a lot communicated. But more or less, the gist was federal support has been sufficient and great so far; but looking to the future a little more may be necessary if we're going to really respond to this.
The hearing was recorded. You can watch it on the House Subcommittee's YouTube channel using the link in the show notes. 

About 15% of Americans live in rural areas, but they often suffer worse health outcomes when compared with the health concerns of people living in urban areas. West Virginia state health officer, Dr. Ayne Amjad, practiced medicine in a rural part of her state before leading West Virginia's public health department. In today's morning conversation, Dr. Amjad talks about rural health infrastructure, one of ASTHO's top 10 policy issues to watch in 2022. 
Tell us your prognosis for rural health in this new year. 
I have high hopes for rural health in America, mainly because I think the COVID-19 pandemic did shed a lot of light on the insufficiencies we have across the country. We obviously saw not good access to vaccines, testing—that only shed the light on the other resources that they were lacking, which is basic provider healthcare and those resources, even for mental health. 
So, I think this year should be a lot better than pre-pandemic, just because it kind of shined the spotlight on those other areas that hopefully we can address a little more aggressively now. 
As you mentioned, there've been a lot of obstacles, and those have been laid bare by the pandemic; but do you see any additional work that we need to do or any more hills to climb to get to that point for rural America?
Here in West Virginia, a lot of places are considered rural, mainly because we don't have transportation, broadband, WiFi access, you name it—I mean, we even saw that when kids had to be remote learning. So, for me, I think those are things we need to tackle. 
And whether—you know, there's a debate whether or not telemedicine should continue so much and whatnot, because I do believe in touching patients and seeing them face-to-face; but there are times in, especially West Virginia, we don't have public transportation to take people to their doctor, so it costs a lot of money for people to even get gas, get to their doctor, and do all the things they need to do. 
So, I think you can telemedicine wisely. And increasing broadband maybe not just for computer use but even for telephone use—you know, a lot of people don't have even the cellphone coverage in rural America—and all that can only help people get better access to care when they need it. 
Thinking about this new year, we're always looking forward—we have high hopes for a little bit better than what we had the year before. If we could accomplish only one thing on behalf of people in rural America this year, from a public health standpoint, what should that be? What could that be? 
We always want equal access to care, and that means different things to different people. I would think by increasing people's choices for access to care—whether it's transportation options or using their phone or a computer to get ahold of their doctor—I think people need options that they can do on their own, because what's good for me or someone else might not be what they consider equal access to healthcare. We know that's lacking. 
You know, not many people go into primary care—it's not a very sexy medical field to go into. So, I think we need to give people options so that they can access the care that they need when they have the ability to do so. 
Join us over the next several days as we examine all 10 ASTHO policy priorities, and look for links to the associated policy briefings in the show notes. 

Finally this morning, ASTHO is hiring. The organization is looking for a director of information technology, a specialist working on meetings and events, and a virtual event producer. 
Get more details on the ASTHO careers webpage. Find it using the link in the show notes. 

That'll do it for today's report. 

Be sure to join us again tomorrow morning for more ASTHO news and information. 
I'm Robert Johnson. You're listening to Public Health Review Morning Edition. Have a great day. 

Ayne Amjad MD MPH

Commissioner and State Health Officer, Bureau for Public Health, West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources

Devon Page

Analyst, Government Affairs, ASTHO