WNPR

Connecticut's Rural Areas Lack Access To Health Care

Oct 18, 2017

People living in Connecticut’s rural areas are dying at a higher rate than the state average. New data just released by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that in the 68 towns designated as rural, death rates from major killers, such as cancer and heart disease, are all higher. 

Journalist Jodi Gill took a look at the numbers, and reported on them for the Connecticut Health Investigative Team. She said many factors are at work.

“There’s the transportation issue -- they’re farther away from doctors offices, they’re farther away from hospitals," she told WNPR. "How do they get to health care in terms of Medicaid and Medicare? We see people in rural areas have higher rates of smoking, higher rates of obesity, lower use of seatbelts. So there’s lots of things that play into this.”

Access to both preventative primary care, and to emergency room care contribute to the problem, and Connecticut mirrors national trends.

Gill said Connecticut's general lack of physicians is even worse in its rural counties.

"In Windham, it's 1,900 patients per primary care provider," she said. "In the state overall, it's about 1,100 per primary care provider."

There’s disagreement over whether the current trend toward hospital consolidation helps or hurts rural areas. Hospital systems say if they have a bigger footprint, they’re able to rotate physicians into rural towns more often.

"You might be able to attract more doctors to your network, and you have that funding from a bigger group who can help pay for those services that people need," said Gill.

But some rural resident report that consolidation is leading to services being centralized in cities instead of being available in local hospitals. "It depends on who you ask," according to Gill.