New CDC Office of Rural Health could help Mississippi address healthcare needs
U.S. Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith advocated for the office, knowing the impact it could have in the Magnolia State.
By: Anne Summerhays
On December 29, 2022, President Joe Biden signed H.R. 2617 into law. The nearly $1.7 trillion appropriations bill funds the federal government through September 30, 2023.
Among the many provisions in the omnibus package, language was included to establish the Office of Rural Health within the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 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.
Additionally, the office has 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.
U.S. Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith, a Republican from Mississippi, who did not support the omnibus package on final passage, did however play a key role in advocating for the new CDC Office of Rural Health included in the legislation. She championed efforts to establish the formation of the office along with Oregon U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley, a Democrat.
Senator Hyde-Smith said the COVID-19 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
“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,” Hyde-Smith said. “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.”
According to Mississippi State University (MSU), 18% percent of America’s population live in rural areas comprising 84% of the nation’s lands.
“Rural residents have higher poverty rates, include a larger percentage of elderly, tend to be in poorer health, have fewer doctors, hospitals, and other health resources, and face greater difficulties getting to health services than their urban brethren,” MSU explained.
In Mississippi, 54% of the population are considered to reside in a rural area. More than half of the state’s doctors practice in four urban areas and all or part of the 82 counties are considered to be medically underserved.
“The rural nature of our state contributes to an uneven distribution of health care resources and impacts the level of health of our residents,” MSU said.
Hyde-Smith wrote an op-ed published in the Washington Times n June 2021 that said the town where she grew up – Monticello – is rural America with a population of fewer than 2,000 people.
“Rural America is where I come from and preserving our rural way of life is a priority of mine in the United States Senate,” Hyde-Smith wrote. “One urgent challenge is the rapidly escalating crisis of rural hospital closures. In 2020, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, rural hospital closures hit a record high, and this problem does not show any sign of abating.”
Senator Hyde-Smith noted that Mississippi has more rural hospitals at risk of closing than any other state in this country. She argued then that the CDC must do more to address the public-health needs of rural communities.
“While CDC has made some efforts toward this end, I am concerned that there is no entity within the CDC tasked specifically with this work,” Hyde-Smith continued in the op-ed.
In November, the Mississippi Senator led a bipartisan, bicameral letter to the appropriations leaders that called for the establishment of this office within the CDC.
“Obstacles in the delivery of healthcare to rural communities differ significantly from those in urban areas,” the letter stated. “Rural health providers continue to face enduring workforce shortages and socio-economic hurdles, coupled with the recent COVID-19 pandemic, which have led to a history of inequity of health outcomes. Further, rural Americans face unique public health challenges, including increased rates of chronic disease, behavioral health conditions, and unintentional injury compared to their urban counterparts.”
“In light of these challenges, it is essential for the CDC to facilitate coordination with rural communities and public health agencies, while serving as a direct, identifiable resource for providers and patients alike,” the letter continued. “In order to ensure all of our constituents can lead healthy, resilient lives, we must see to it that the CDC engages in robust, intra-agency work to equitably protect the health, safety, and security of the one-in-five Americans who live in rural areas.”