Improving healthcare in rural America  

Former U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams continues to advocate for improved healthcare in rural areas.

“I was really glad to be U.S. Surgeon General as someone from the Midwest, as someone who had grown up in a rural area, and as someone who could speak to the challenges that rural America faces as we’re dealing with some difficult health problems,” he says. “In the beginning we were really focused on the opioid epidemic, and I made sure we always had someone at the table who was from a rural community whether it was a provider or someone who has suffered with substance abuse disorder. It’s very personal to me because my brother suffers from substance abuse disorder and lives in a rural community and has trouble accessing care because of where he lives. Another example is COVID. We know that many people haven’t had access to Paxlovid in the early treatments that you can easily get in urban and suburban communities. They haven’t had access to vaccinations and providers to the extent that others have had. We see higher death rates from rural communities for COVID, cancer, diabetes, and an array of other diseases. That’s not acceptable.”   

Adams served as the 20th U.S. Surgeon General during the Trump Administration.

He says the coronavirus pandemic highlighted health-related challenges in rural areas, and led to an expansion in telehealth services.

“COVID absolutely opened our eyes to many of the disparities that exist in our society. Some of those are racial and some of those are age, but a lot of them are geographical—urban vs rural,” he says. “My hope is that we can use this pandemic as an opportunity to increase resources to anyone who is suffering from a health inequity. For example, prior to the pandemic we were delivering about 10,000 telehealth visits per week and at the peak of the pandemic that went up to one million. We now have gotten more people comfortable with getting care through telehealth and if we can continue to leverage that to increase access to care, we’re going to help rural communities.”

But, he says telehealth services will require improved broadband access.

Adams was appointed as a Presidential Fellow and the Executive Director of Purdue’s Health Equity Initiatives at Purdue University in October.  

Audio: Jerome Adams

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