rural health

Rural Areas Face Challenges In COVID Vaccine Rollout

Feb 9, 2021
Natalie Krebs / Side Effects Public Media

Across the Midwest, the rollout of COVID vaccines has been spotty. Lots of people are having a trouble with online signups. And vaccine demand far exceeds supply. That’s made the process challenging, especially in rural areas. 

Knox County Public Library

As the COVID vaccine rollout continues, Midwesterners have a lot of questions about distribution plans — and the vaccine itself. One state is getting help from a surprising place: public libraries.

Natalie Krebs / Side Effects Public Media

The work that people in public health do is often not very visible. It’s usually focused on long-term impacts like improving maternal health and encouraging flu shots. But when the COVID-19 pandemic hit the U.S. last spring, public health workers were thrown into the spotlight seemingly overnight. And this sudden shift has taken a huge toll on them. 

Francisco Bonilla is a pastor in Carthage, Mo., catering to the spiritual needs of the town's growing Latinx community. But he's also a media personality, casting his voice far beyond the white-painted walls of Casa de Sanidad. Inside the church, Bonilla runs a low-power, Spanish-language radio station.

PRESTON KERES / U.S. DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE

Outbreaks at meat processing facilities have sickened workers and stalled production throughout the Midwest. Side Effects reporters Natalie Krebs (Iowa Public Radio) and Sebastián Martínez Valdivia (KBIA, Missouri), and Ohio Valley ReSource reporter Liam Niemeyer (WKMS, Kentucky) joined engagement specialist Brittani Howell on Facebook Live to talk about how the story has unfolded in their states. 

Spencer Pugh / Unsplash

Studies have found the rates of mental illness and suicide are higher for farmers. They work long hours, have limited social contact and are at the mercy of factors such as weather. Now the COVID-19 pandemic is creating even greater challenges to their livelihood—and mental health. 

Ferrell Hospital

As the coronavirus pandemic continues, some of the biggest outbreaks have been concentrated in urban areas, like New York City and Chicago. But rural America isn’t immune to the virus—and many areas are already dealing with a scarcity of health care.

Ferrell Hospital, in the Southern Illinois town of Eldorado, is bracing for coronavirus. Dr. Joseph Jackson, a physician at Ferrell, says the virus is sure to spread to rural areas like the ones his hospital serves.

Michael Leland / Side Effects Public Media

Many of America’s rural counties have just a handful of COVID-19 cases. And health experts say that may be giving residents a false sense of security. Now, outbreaks at food processing plants could shake that complacency.

Missouri Highlands Healthcare

If someone gets sick in a seven county swath of the Ozarks of southeastern Missouri, the closest place they can go for care is a clinic run by Missouri Highlands Health Care. Highlands operates in some of the least populated and poorest counties in the state. Now, it’s cutting back.

Natalie Krebs / Side Effects Public Media

In many states, emergency medical services are not considered essential, like fire or police. That means when you call 911, there’s no guarantee an ambulance will respond. And this is a big problem in rural areas, where volunteers are scarce.


Sam Horton/Indiana Public Broadcasting.

Farmers across the Midwest are facing tight profit margins and rising healthcare costs. And that means some hold off getting medical treatment or forgo health insurance altogether. In response, some state farm bureaus are trying to fill that gap by creating their own group health plan.

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New funding will drive a pilot project to connect patients with rides to medical appointments and address transportation barriers to health.

Lack of transportation can mean people miss important medical appointments including prenatal visits or cancer screenings.

A $208,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation will allow Indiana University Health to develop and implement a new ride software program for patients. 

Jami Marsh, executive director of system philanthropic strategy for the IU Health Foundation, says the tool aims to provide better care access.

Photo by Dan Margolies, KCUR

Nine months ago, things were looking bleak for Hillsboro Community Hospital, a 15-bed facility in central Kansas about 50 miles north of Wichita. 

The critical access hospital appeared to be facing the same fate as four other rural hospitals in Kansas that have closed over the past three years. 

Why Rural Hospitals Keep Closing Maternity Wards

Sep 30, 2019
Natalie Krebs/Side Effects Public Media

Jessica Sheridan’s plan was to have her first daughter at the local hospital, five minutes from her house in Iowa Falls.

But when she was seven months pregnant, that plan suddenly changed.

Sebastián Martínez Valdivia / Side Effects Public Media

On a sunny afternoon in Sedalia, Mo., a town between St. Louis and Kansas City, Jennifer and Matt Boatright escorted some unusual visitors into a pasture on their farm. They opened the heavy gate and called their sheep over to meet a half-dozen medical students from the University of Missouri system. 

The farm tour was part of a week-long program designed to introduce future doctors, pharmacists and nurses to rural life.  The goal: Get the students interested in working in rural areas.


E-cigarette Popularity Surges In Rural Classrooms

May 24, 2019
Vaping devices and e-liquids confiscated from students at North Newton Junior/Senior High School in Morocco, Indiana.
Leigh DeNoon/Side Effects Public Media

North Newton Junior/Senior High lies in the Northwest corner of Indiana, in a county home to more dairy cows than people.

But students have no problem getting e-cigarettes in all shapes and sizes. Some look like pens, others like computer thumb drives.

Lisa Gillespie/Side Effects Public Media

Dennis Pond doesn’t tell his psychiatrist about his thoughts of suicide.  But he has them. He often feels useless, in large part because his diabetes has caused terrible pain and numbness in his feet, and that affects his ability to drive, to help out around the house, to even go out in the yard.

Rural Hoosiers Face Long Drives To Reach Prenatal Care

Oct 23, 2018
Zach Herndon, WFIU/WTIU News

Indiana’s maternal and infant mortality rates are far higher than the national average. Experts say one of the reasons is a lack of access to care providers. 

It’s a problem statewide, but it's especially felt in rural areas.

Driving Hours To Reach OB Care 

Deidra Firestone is expecting a child this year. This time, she says she’s blessed with a ‘normal pregnancy.’ But last year, she wasn't so lucky.

As the nation's dairy farmers struggle through their fourth year of depressed milk prices, concerns are rising that many are becoming depressed themselves. The outlook for the next year is so bleak, it's heightening worries — especially in the Northeast — about farmer suicides.

Agri-Mark Inc., a dairy cooperative with about 1,000 members, saw three farmers take their own lives in the past three years. The most recent was last month. It's a very small sample, but very sharp and disturbing increase.

Bram Sable-Smith / KBIA/Side Effects Public Media

This story was originally published February 6. It has been updated as of February 9 at 1 pm.

The Atchison-Holt Ambulance District spans two counties and 1,100 square miles in the far northwest corner of Missouri. The EMTs who drive these ambulances cover nearly 10 times more land area than their counterparts in Omaha, the nearest major city. 

For those not familiar with Missouri, the so-called "Bootheel" refers to the wedge of the state that juts down between Tennessee and Arkansas — a area that's been profiled by Side Effect's own Bram Sable-Smith, who covered a struggling rural hospital there in 2017.

Bram Sable-Smith / KBIA/Side Effects Public Media

When the hospital closed in rural Ellington, Missouri, a town of about 1,000, the community lost its only emergency room, too. 

That was 2016. That same year, a local farmer had a heart attack.


Seth Herald / for WOSU

On a fall morning, Gary Jones takes a walk in his wooded property in Licking County, Ohio. Like many people, long walks helps him to clear his head.

“So it’s all kind of a similar thing, it’s just a little exaggerated with, uh, post-traumatic stress,” Jones says.


$5 Per Tooth Extractions Draw Those Without Affordable Dental Care

Oct 3, 2017
Marissanne Lewis-Thompson/KRCU

After 20 years of selling and using meth, 38-year-old Andy Moss turned his life around. He got off drugs and got a good job. Next step: he wanted to fix his teeth, which had disintegrated, leaving nerves exposed.

Without Price Breaks, Rural Hospitals Struggle To Stock Lifesaving Drugs

Sep 18, 2017
Sarah Jane Tribble / Kaiser Health News

Hospital pharmacist Mandy Langston remembers when Lulabelle Berry arrived at Stone County Medical Center’s emergency department last year.

Berry couldn’t talk. Her face was drooping on one side. Her eyes couldn’t focus.

“She was basically unresponsive,” Langston recalls.

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