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Posted by Cathleen McElligott, MS, RD. Cathleen is the Director of the State Office of Rural Health in the Bureau of Community Health and Prevention at the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.

From the Cape and Islands all the way to the Berkshires, rural healthcare organizations and community groups across the state today are celebrating the first annual National Rural Health Day.

Did you know that in Massachusetts, more than one in 10 people live in the 54% of the state's landmass classified as rural? Massachusetts’ rural, small-town communities are diverse geographically, economically, and culturally. Our rural towns stretch from the seashores and Island communities in the southeast, to the scenic pastures and small towns of central Massachusetts, to the river valleys, hill towns and forested mountains of the western part of the state. 

With a rich history of creativity and ingenuity in addressing local problems, rural communities are great places for health care collaboration and innovation. Like so many other aspects of small town living, healthcare providers in rural communities really get to know the people they care for. What’s more, rural healthcare organizations are also typically the economic foundation of their communities, with every dollar spent generating more than double that amount for the local economy.

All the while, rural health care organizations are constantly evolving – tackling issues of accessibility, infrastructure, and workforce while meeting the unique needs of aging populations. Towards that end, community-based health programs and locally-based ambulatory outpatient, emergency medical services, and skilled nursing services are especially critical in rural Massachusetts.

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(l to r) DPH State Office of Rural Health staff Amy Waldman, Cathleen McElligott, Molly Butler, and Ronnie Rom, with Jackie Parseghian of AmeriCorps VISTA

To honor these efforts, Governor Patrick today issued a proclamation heralding the first annual National Rural Health Day, and all this week events are being held across the state to honor the strengths of rural communities and to build awareness of the unique healthcare challenges they face.  

DPH is partnering for this year’s celebration with the New England Rural Health RoundTable, the University of Massachusetts Medical School’s Rural Scholars Program, Berkshire Health Systems, and additional rural Massachusetts hospitals, community health centers, and community groups. 

Learn more about the DPH Office of Rural Health at www.mass.gov/dph/ruralhealth. To find out more about National Rural Health Day, visit newenglandruralhealth.org

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