This Thursday is National Rural Health Day, a time to celebrate “the power of rural.”

The “power” of rural is real: Rural areas represent 97% of America’s land mass, and 20% of Americans live in rural communities. That’s 61 million rural residents. Rural America is the primary source for our nation’s food, affordable energy, clean drinking water and outdoor recreation.

Rural communities deserve our support — and that includes ensuring rural residents have access to quality health care.

Yet the severe economic and workforce challenges facing the health care field are hitting rural communities particularly hard. It’s estimated that 80% of rural America is “medically underserved,” meaning that a particular area has few primary care providers, high infant mortality rates, high poverty rates and an increasing number of patients who are age 65 or older.

In addition, a number of barriers challenge rural residents in the form of adequate transportation, housing or food security. The impact of these social drivers of health is more profound in rural communities.

The AHA works to support the nation’s rural hospitals and health systems. This week the AHA is releasing content — podcasts, videos, resources and member stories — to highlight the incredible work of our rural members to advance the health of their communities. Check AHA social media and visit AHA.org to view a wide array of resources, including the latest legislative priorities on rural health care.

In particular, I hope you listen to the Leadership Dialogue I had earlier this year with Jennifer Havens, now newly appointed president of UnityPoint Health – Dubuque and the Visting Nurse Association. She eloquently describes the distinct challenges facing rural hospitals and health systems and how UnityPoint Health has addressed them.

The challenges facing our field are nowhere more apparent than in rural communities. Let’s take time this week to recognize the innovative work by teams at rural hospitals and health systems to deliver safe, quality care 24/7. And we’ll keep supporting our rural health care teams and their communities, acknowledging the “power of rural” throughout the year.

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