Listening to Maine's Rural Communities About Their Health

Feb 21, 2020

Maine's rural communities face a growing crisis in meeting the health care needs of their residents. Over the past decade, many have experienced an erosion of fundamental health services, growing financial threats to their hospitals, and challenges to sustaining their health workforce. These forces have collectively resulted in serious threats to the economic, physical, and behavioral health of rural residents.

In order to better understand the needs of rural communities and inform Maine's rural health transformation efforts, the Department, with support from the Maine Health Access Foundation, led a series of seven Rural Health Listening Sessions between August 2019 and January 2020. In partnership with local health care organizations, these events were designed to allow us to hear directly from those living and working in rural areas about what matters most, what's working well, challenges they face, how to make things better, and the highest priority solutions that should be pursued. DHHS has summarized this feedback in a new report highlighting the challenges, needs, and ideas for improving rural health and health care.

No two rural communities in Maine are exactly alike – each has its own geography, demography, and history. Despite that reality, these seven Listening Sessions revealed clear themes and what actions should be prioritized by state and local partners to improve rural health and health care. The ideas generated will help rebuild and transform Maine's rural health system to meet the needs of rural communities.

The next steps include continued efforts by the Department to promote the use of telehealth services in rural areas; development of regional models for care of pregnant women and infants; and exploring opportunities for new payment models in rural communities.