Health care is expected to become easier to access in rural communities across eastern Washington

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Health care is expected to become easier to access in rural communities across eastern Washington. More than a million people statewide are facing major doctor shortages. This is happening in rural communities like Douglas, Stevens, and Lincoln counties.

The problem to go see a doctor is drastic. It can take weeks to book an appointment, hours to get to the office, and when you do, for every 10,000 people; there are only 13 doctors available in small towns. The National Rural Health Association says rural doctors are caring for more than double the amount of patients than urban city doctors.

The NRHA says in small towns, there's a greater chance of injury-related deaths, more people have diabetes and heart diseases, and because of a lack of nearby mental health facilities, rural youth are twice as likely to commit suicide.

One health insurance provider, Premera Blue Cross, took big steps Wednesday to help smaller communities across the state. The insurance provider donated $10.5 million to deliver health care, to those who have been struggling just to be seen.

Premera says doctors are likely to stay in the city they where they had their residency. So, half the grant money is going towards establishing new sites for WSU medical residency programs in eastern Washington, where doctors are retiring, without enough new doctors to replace them.

The other $5 million is going towards new equipment, among other advancements, for doctor's offices in rural communities through Empire Health Foundation.

This investment isn't an overnight fix, but it’s a start. The Washington State Department of Health says that the majority of counties in Washington are low-income populations, where doctors are scarce.

Over the next four years, Premera's hopeful their contribution will benefit the 14% of Washington state, that have wide open spaces, but even bigger medical challenges.


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