Rural Health Day helps draw attention to challenges and opportunities for Idaho healthcare

November 22, 2022
By Gina Pannell, Division of Public Health

Healthcare systems in rural areas like Idaho face unique challenges. More than 88 percent of Idaho is classified as rural. DHW’s Bureau of Rural health and Primary Care is working to confront those challenges in several ways.

More than 98 percent of Idaho faces a shortage of primary care professionals, and more than 95 percent of the state doesn’t have enough dental health professionals to serve their communities. One-hundred percent of Idaho has too few mental health professionals.

To work toward improving these numbers, the Bureau of Rural Health and Primary Care offers programs and resources to improve access to healthcare in rural and underserved areas.

These efforts include clinician recruitment and retention programs such as loan repayment programs when they decide to practice in Idaho for a certain amount of time and in health professional shortage area designations. Efforts also include education and resources for critical access hospitals, rural health clinics, and free medical clinics, as well as support for the transition to value-based healthcare from fee-for-service care. 

To help draw attention to these statewide challenges, Idaho Gov. Brad Little signed a proclamation on Thursday, Nov. 17, to honor National Rural Health Day. The proclamation draws attention to the “distinct and critical role” the Bureau of Rural Health and Primary Care and Idaho Rural Health Association play by leading efforts to meet rural Idahoans’ unique healthcare needs.  

Idahoans who live in rural communities  tend to be older, more likely to be uninsured or underinsured, have a greater number of chronic illnesses, and are more likely to have poorer health behaviors because they have limited access to healthy foods and physical activity.

Rural residents are more likely than those who live in urban areas to die early from all five leading causes of death: heart disease, cancer, unintentional injury, chronic lower respiratory disease, and stroke.

Health services, meanwhile, do more than help rural Idahoans stay healthy. They are important economic engines. Health services contribute significantly to disease prevention and management and play a vital role in supporting state and local economies.

In Idaho, the average doctor supports an estimated 12 jobs and generates about $1.9 million in economic benefits for their communities. Improving healthcare for Idahoans also means strengthening Idaho’s rural economies.

For more information about how the Bureau of Rural Health and Primary Care is working to improve healthcare in rural parts of the state visit

Gina Pannell is bureau chief of the Bureau of Rural health and Primary Care in DHW’s Division of Public Health.

The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare is dedicated to strengthening the health, safety, and independence of Idahoans. Learn more at 

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