The struggle to hire and keep doctors in these towns means patients in need of care go without
Kirk Siegler, May 21, 2019
Minnesota Public Radio – Taylor Walker is wiping down tables after the lunch rush at the Bunkhouse Bar and Grill in remote Arthur, Neb., a tiny dot of a town ringed by cattle ranches.
The 25-year-old has her young son in tow, and she is expecting another baby in August.
“I was just having some terrible pain with this pregnancy and I couldn’t get in with my doctor,” she says.
Visiting her obstetrician in North Platte is a four-hour, round-trip endeavor that usually means missing a day of work. She arrived to a recent visit only to learn that another doctor was on call and hers wasn’t available.
“So then we had to make three trips down there just to get into my regular doctor,” Walker says.
This inconvenience is part of life in Arthur County, a 700-square-mile slice of western Nebraska prairie that’s home to only 465 people. According to census figures, it’s the fifth least-populated county in the nation.
It’s always been a chore to get to a doctor out here, and the situation is getting worse by some measures — here, and in many rural places.
A new poll by NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health found that 1 out of every 4 people living in rural areas said they couldn’t get the health care they needed recently.
And about a quarter of those said the reason was that their health care location was too far or difficult to get to.
Rural hospitals are in decline. Over 100 have closed since 2010 and hundreds more are vulnerable. As of December 2018, there were more than 7,000 areas in the U.S. with health professional shortages, nearly 60 percent of which were in rural areas.
In Arthur County, it’s a common refrain to hear residents talk about riding out illnesses or going without care unless the situation is dire or life-threatening … Read more.