National Study Reveals Priorities and Challenges in Rural Health Care: Access to mental health, dental health, and other health services are key areas

June 16, 2003

A just-concluded study at the Southwest Rural Health Research Center at the School of Rural Public Health (SRPH) at The Texas A&M University System Health Science Center in College Station, Texas, details a number of significant health disparities faced by rural Americans. Gaps in access to health services such as emergency medical services, mental health services and dental services are among a number of rural health priorities in rural communities.
“Rural Healthy People 2010,” published by the Southwest Center, addresses these issues and more. The document is a companion document to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ “Healthy People 2010,” a report identifying the 28 health goals for the nation. For 10 of these goals considered rural health priority areas, “Rural Healthy People 2010” points out additional challenges that must be addressed in rural areas to attain these goals and objectives. For these same priorities, the report examines proposed solutions and ongoing models for practice that are being pursued in selected rural communities across the country.
“The results of this study will have a major impact at the national level,” said Ciro V. Sumaya, SRPH dean and former head of a federal public health agency. “Having this national study awarded to the Southwest Rural Health Research Center at our School of Rural Public Health is a major coup. Our focus on rural public health matches the study’s focus on rural health issues, a perfect combination that helps us achieve the school’s mission.”
During the past two years, Larry Gamm, Ph.D., professor of health policy and management, and other faculty and research staff at the School of Rural Public Health, first identified rural health priorities and then summarized what is known about these problems and possible solutions in rural areas. The project team conducted a national survey of state and local rural health leaders to identify the rural health priorities areas. Ten of the top priorities were supported by several other criteria, as well, and are subjects treated in Rural Healthy People 2010.
Ten Rural Healthy People 2010 priorities:
Access to Quality Health Services
Heart Disease and Stroke
Mental Health and Mental Disorders
Oral Health
Tobacco Use
Substance Abuse
Maternal, Infant and Child Health
Nutrition and Overweight
Gamm notes that “the Rural Healthy People 2010 report is intended for state and local health professionals, consumers and policy-makers in defining rural health needs and promising strategies for their communities. The three or four models for practice for each of the 10 rural priority areas are intended to stimulate action on these approaches.”
The national distribution of the two-volume set of the RHP 2010 report will go to select national officials and all state offices of rural health, state departments of health and to a number of rural and local health departments, rural community health centers and clinics and rural hospitals. The report is also available at
The School of Rural Public Health and its Southwest Rural Health Research Center are part of The Texas A&M University System Health Science Center. The Southwest Rural Health Research Center is a federally funded center and one of only six such centers in the nation. Gamm has made presentations about this nationally significant project at several conferences over the last two years, including the National Rural Health Association, the American Public Health Association, the National Organization of State Offices of Rural Health and the Healthy People 2010 Consortium. Two articles focused on the project and rural health priorities were recently published in the Journal of Rural Health.
The Texas A&M University System Health Science Center provides the state with health education, outreach and research. Its five components located in communities throughout Texas are Baylor College of Dentistry, the College of Medicine, the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, the Institute of Biosciences and Technology and the School of Rural Public Health.

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