posted on February 17, 2017 15:07
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.