By Raymond Christensen, MD
NRHA 2014 president
The National Rural Health Association has long advocated that we are either all prepared to deal with emerging public health crisis, or as a nation, we are simply not prepared at all. Such is the case for the emergence of the Ebola virus. Decades of rural public health underinvestment raise serious concern as to the ability of a rural community to handle an Ebola-positive patient.
Each rural community needs to assess and determine inherent risks and capacities that can be brought to bear in responding to any public health threat. Ebola is no exception.
From a rural perspective, the ability to identify and diagnose, and then the contact tracing role of local public health officials are the great unknown at this point.
Health professionals, volunteers/first responders and the public must be educated to better identify, respond to, and prevent the health consequences that Ebola presents and to promote the visibility and availability of health professionals in the communities they serve.
For far too long, rural public health has been underfunded. As a result, the infrastructure is thin. Training and the ability to properly diagnose before the infection gains a foothold in a rural community will be key.
As a nation, we must be prepared for the identification of a future Ebola case to present in a small rural community. As such, local, state and federal authorities need to have a plan in place for this potential outcome. The solution will likely involve a local, state and federal response, and how all these parts of our health system interact will be key to a successful outcome.
NRHA will continue to advocate for rural public health, patients and providers.