3RNet Blog

Thanks for visiting the 3RNet blog! Blog posts are written by members, staff, and partners. If you have an idea for a blog post, or are interested in writing one, please contact Kristine Morin, Director of Communications and Marketing, at Morin@3RNet.org.

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This post comes to us from our Massachusetts member, Kirby Lecy:

Every time I travel outside of New England and the inevitable question of,  “where are you from?” comes up, as soon as I spit out the words Massachusetts, I am often cut off with a “Pahk the cah in Hahvad Yahd” reference or an immediate assumption that I must live in Boston.  I welcome these opportunities, just as I welcome this one, to talk about where I do live, in rural Massachusetts. 

Massachusetts is often thought of as urban because of the dense concentration of people living in Boston, suburban metro-Boston, and our eastern industrial cities. But, 45% of Massachusetts’ towns and 54% percent of the state’s landmass is designated rural through federal definitions.  These areas include a section of the Appalachian Mountain range, rolling hills, island communities, picturesque farmland, quintessential New England town centers, and incredibly ingenuitive and resilient people.

No different than the national picture, rural Massachusetts struggles to maintain acceptable provider ratios. Our urban neighbors can offer higher salaries and better employee benefits. The urban academic medical centers in eastern Massachusetts with world renowned specialists and research centers draw physicians trained in our state tempt physicians away from rural practice even if that was an interest of theirs originally. Tourist populations in some of our rural areas have greatly inflated the cost of living for year round residents making it difficult to recruit health care professionals who cannot afford the high cost of living.

Despite these challenges, we keep working day by day to make progress. Our State Office of Rural Health may be the only office in state government that focuses specifically on the needs of rural areas, but we work with a cadre of committed partners inside and outside of state government.  Our Primary Care Office, also known as the Healthcare Workforce Center (HCWC), is our key partner in the area of health professional recruitment and retention. The HCWC provides data surveillance and reporting on  our state’s healthcare professionals in seven professions, especially noting rural areas. They have prioritized our rural communities for both State Loan Repayment and J1 Visa Waivers and they provide expertise and support of all our programs including financially supporting our subscription to 3RNet.  

Strong collaborations with the University of Massachusetts Medical School, through both their Rural Scholars Pathway Program and the State and regional AHEC Programs help keep our pipelines flowing and provide responsive trainings and mentorship connections for our rural workforce. In addition our Primary Care Association and the Massachusetts Hospital Association support the efforts of our office and the sixteen rural FQHC sites and the eight hospitals in rural areas in our state.

Our most important partnership comes from the more than forty innovative and committed rural healthcare organizations that we work with on recruitment and retention. Their willingness to work with us, stay positive, try new things, and keep returning to the table despite increasing workloads and challenging provider shortages is inspiring. 

For our office, partnerships and collaboration have to be our primary focus, since we are such a small office with only 0.33FTE time allocated specifically to workforce.  Without 3RNet and the expertise and support of all the 3RNet member states we could not be successful. The materials and toolkits provided by 3RNet allow us to provide all our facilities with professional looking best practices. The network of 3RNet members make navigating even the most challenging dilemmas easier.  Most importantly it feels really good to know that none of us are in this alone; there is an inspiring network of individuals working hard within their own states collectively who are having a national impact. 

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