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Frank Cerra speaks at the Rural Health Summit.

Frank Cerra, above, senior vice president for health sciences of the University of Minnesota, spoke at the Upper Midwest Rural Health Policy Summit at the University of Minnesota, Crookston.

Summit addresses rural health issues

By Kathryn Webster

August 24, 2007

Concern for the future of rural health care prompted the Minnesota Rural Health Association to join forces with counterparts in Montana and North Dakota to hold the Upper Midwest Rural Health Policy Summit on Friday, August 17, 2007, at the University of Minnesota, Crookston.

The goal of the summit was to focus on the future of rural health care policy and featured key note presentations by Frank Cerra, senior vice president for health sciences of the University of Minnesota; Kristin Juliar, director of the Montana Office of Rural Health; and Brad Gibbens, associate director of the University of North Dakota Center for Rural Health.

Health care is the focus of national attention, but rural health care is often overlooked. For Jon Linell, director of the North Region Health Alliance in Warren, Minn., and other health care administrators, the future of health care is a constant concern and a serious issue facing those who live and work in rural areas.

"As a farming community, we cannot lose rural health care access. We have to provide enough services and the kind of services rural people need," said Linell.

In his address, Cerra pointed out that fewer students at the University of Minnesota are choosing general medicine but rather are opting to specialize. This creates a greater need for primary health care physicians to fill positions in rural hospitals and clinics.

Lack of primary care professionals isn't the only problem; the medical care issues in rural areas are multifaceted. Juliar pointed out that for a small town with a declining population, there is the real possibility of residents simply burning out. For example, the only Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) might also serve as the mayor, a volunteer firefighter, a member of the church board, and the high school basketball coach.

When prominent positions in a town rest on the shoulders of only a few people, what is going to happen to health care when these people simply feel they can no longer serve? The summit will hopefully spark more discussions on this and the myriad of issues facing rural communities.