LUBBOCK, TX - Texas ranked 36 out of 47 states in a first-of-its-kind report that looked at rural health care across the nation.
The report, released Wednesday, measured states according to mortality, morbidity and access to health care. It was conducted by the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center F. Marie Hall Institute for Rural and Community Health and was published by the journal Rural Health Quarterly.
Texas received a "D-minus" on a 4.0 scale because of the state's "low access to care, poor physical health and high mortality rates from heart disease and stroke," according to the journal.
"We are comparing apples to apples or states to states ... and we want these people to see how health can be improved by looking at the initiatives of individual states," said Billy Philips, health director of the institute.
West Texas generates 40 percent of the state's economy, so its residents need sufficient access to health care, said Philips.
Families living in rural areas cannot always make the commute to cities for various reasons, including transportation or work, said Scott Phillips, editor-in-chief of Rural Health Quarterly and a researcher on the report.
Local physicians felt the effects of a worsening rural health community as hospitals close and clinics shut down, leaving some towns with no options, said Al Bendeck, physician's assistant at Slaton Family Medical Clinic.
"A lot of times they need to go to the emergency room, and they will end up at my door because they can't get to Lubbock," said Bendeck.
While he does not turn any patient away, he wished that those with extreme conditions would "continue onto Lubbock" because he may not have the resources to provide care.
"It disheartens us that people wait so long to get care," Bendeck said.
Change in rural health care may only come with a change in public and financial policy, said Steve Beck, senior vice president of administration at Covenant Health. He hopes state legislators access this report to instill change.
"We are going to have to get physicians back in rural communities that want to be there, that can afford to be there," said Beck, "We have to come back and find a way to support them."
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