WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.) and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) today reported success in their efforts to establish an Office of Rural Health within the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

After both Senators advocated for the formation of the office, language establishing the CDC Office of Rural Health was included in the FY2023 funding bill signed into law by President Biden in December.

“The COVID pandemic highlighted the health care disparities in rural areas, especially, in rural states like Mississippi where the public-health response to the virus was less effective than in more urbanized regions,” said Hyde-Smith, a consistent rural health advocate.  “Senator Merkley and I fought to establish a CDC Office of Rural Health because people living and working in rural areas need to know their health care needs are not secondary to more urban areas.  This new office should be empowered to look across CDC programs to ensure the agency’s work properly addresses the needs of the 57 million Americans who live in rural communities.”

“Folks living in rural communities deserve national policy makers’ attention to the problems they face,” said Merkley, who introduced legislation in 2021 to establish a CDC Office of Rural Health.  “I’ve been pushing for action on this with my bicameral Rural Health Equity Act, and I’m thrilled that we’re taking the next step toward making this crucial health resource a reality for our rural communities.  Too often, we rely on one-size-fits-all solutions for our national health challenges, instead of specific plans to address the unique challenges to providing and accessing health care in rural communities.  With the establishment of this center, I’m thinking of my House partner on the Rural Health Equity Act, Congressman Donald McEachin, who passed away last fall.  This is yet another piece of his long and lasting legacy of making sure that every member of our communities can access the resources they need.”

The CDC Office of Rural Health will enhance its rural health portfolio, coordinate rural health efforts across CDC programs, and develop a strategic plan for rural health at the agency.

The office has also been tasked with accelerating innovation, making scientific and communication resources tailored to current rural public health needs, building and improving public health functions, and providing leadership in matters of public health infrastructure.
The establishment of this office within the CDC stems from Merkley and Hyde-Smith's bipartisan work bringing attention to the critical need for health care services and providers to rural communities around the country.  In November, they lead a final legislative push with a bipartisan, bicameral letter to the appropriations leaders that called for a designation of the Office of Rural Health to identify and improve health disparities and challenges faced by rural communities.

Their letter also urged using the office to serve as the primary contact within the CDC on matters pertaining to rural health, and to coordinate within the agency to develop and promulgate policies, programs, and initiatives to improve health care and services for rural populations.