Tester marks ‘National Rural Health Day’ by highlighting access

Senator says Montana’s rural health education centers play a vital role in underserved areas

(U.S. SENATE) – Senator Jon Tester on Thursday marked the first annual ‘National Rural Health Day’ by shining a spotlight on an initiative that supports better health care in Montana: the state’s Area Health Education Centers.

Montana’s Area Health Education Centers specialize in recruiting and training health professionals to work in rural and frontier areas.  Those communities are challenged by small populations, fewer health care facilities, and difficulty recruiting and retaining health care providers such as doctors and psychologists.

Studies show that 70 percent of doctors end up working in areas similar to where they trained as residents, making the presence of residency programs in rural states and the efforts of Area Health Education Centers particularly vital for rural areas like Montana.

Tester said bringing more health professionals to rural areas not only improves access to high quality health care, but also creates jobs and spurs economic development.  

“By delivering better services and recruiting qualified health care professionals, these centers keep more Montanans on their feet and able to work,” Tester said.  “I’m proud to highlight the role of Area Health Education Centers as we celebrate National Rural Health Day.”

Area Health Education Centers also improve access to health care by strengthening collaboration between health care facilities and exposing students to careers in a wide range of health care jobs at an early age. 

Tester also used National Rural Health Day to point out that over six million veterans live in rural America.  His 2010 Rural Veterans Healthcare Improvement Act is helping to improve  veterans’ access to health care both through the VA and in local communities.  He also cosponsored the Indian Health Care Improvement Act, which permanently reauthorizes delivery of health care services in Indian Country.

“All Montanans deserve access to quality health care no matter where they live,” Tester said.  “That’s what I’m going to keep fighting for.”

Established by Congress in 1971 for the express purpose of increasing health care services in underserved areas and addressing local community health needs, Area Health Education Centers today operate in almost every U.S. state and work with over 120 medical schools.

As part of activities to highlight the day of recognition for rural health, Tester on Thursday also participated in an online discussion with the Montana Rural Health Initiative focused on guaranteeing students safe routes to school.