Medical Deserts in America

Sarah Grace Goolden
Opinions Editor

PC: Reese Brown

As a UNCG student, I often take medical access for granted. As soon as I start feeling a scratch in my throat, I make my way to Gove Student Health Center. There are qualified doctors and nurses, different specialized departments and access to medication. I do not have to wonder where I’m going to be able to get my flu shot. This is not the case for a lot of people around the world, even in first-world countries like America.

Medical deserts are regions where one is an hour or more away from the nearest acute care hospital. Acute care hospitals are secondary health centers where patients receive active but short-term treatment for an injury or illness. 

If someone has an hour drive to the nearest Urgent Care, they are living in a medical desert. The Federal Government has currently designated 80 percent of rural America as medically underserved.

In cities or suburbs, this may seem like a far-off, dystopian world but it is a reality that is taking place around us right now. 640 U.S. counties are medical deserts. This is a real problem that affects people daily. Like food, medical access is something that every person, regardless of age, sex or gender needs. It is an unquestionable right. This is not even arguing for universal healthcare; it is the access to medical facilities in general.

Medical deserts largely affect rural areas. They are particularly devastating to regions in Texas and Georgia. There are a couple reasons for this. 

Public transportation is less common in these places which means people must find their way to hospitals on their own. An hour drive isn’t feasible on foot for someone without a car. 

There are plenty of Americans who work 40 plus hour weeks and do not have the opportunity to go to these medical facilities, as they are not open when the individual is not working.

People without cars get sick. Working people get hurt. There is no reason why anyone wouldn’t need access to an Urgent Care or emergency room. Medical care needs to be guaranteed in every county.

So why is this happening? Most people would agree that sick or hurt people should not have to sit at home and suffer. Medical deserts have a lot of factors. However, one huge problem is healthcare conglomerates. 

Rural hospitals are pressured to join larger, more financially stable hospital systems. While this can be a good thing, it can also lead to emergency care facilities being shut down. This hurts those who relied on those facilities and cannot receive the care of those larger, geographically farther locations. Additionally, some hospitals just financially cannot stay open and collapse on their own.

Rural doctors also face a slew of problems that other doctors do not. Firstly, urban areas typically have higher education rates, which attracts medical students. There are more resources in cities. There is also the issue of Medicare and Medicaid. These programs pay less than private insurance. Individuals in rural areas often rely on these programs which, unfortunately, hurts doctors. 

Medical access is not purposefully being restricted to hurt low income families in rural America but it has been the result. More emphasis needs to be placed on making sure everyone is afforded the basic right to acute hospital care.



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