Oct 24, 2022 - News

Health care access especially worrisome in rural Arizona

Data: Health Resources and Services Administration; Note: Need is measured by the primary care physicians needed to remove the designation as a Health Professional Shortage Area; Map: Axios Visuals

Arizona's shortage of medical providers has one in five Valley residents worried about accessing health care — and the concern is even more dire for people who live in rural parts of the state, according to a new study by Northern Arizona University.

Why it matters: Access to health care services can help prevent chronic conditions, fend off diseases and allow people to live longer with a better quality of life.

  • 82 areas in the state are considered "medically underserved," according to the Arizona Department of Health Services. Overall, the percentage of need met in the state is 39%.
  • Only 18 of those are in Maricopa County, even though it contains more than 60% of the state's population, indicating a particular need in rural Arizona.

By the numbers: As of Sept. 30, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services says the state needs more than 650 primary care physicians in order to remove the federal designation of Health Professional Shortage Area.

  • In the NAU survey, 21% of Maricopa County residents said they viewed health care accessibility as a serious issue, compared with 40% of respondents in rural parts of Arizona.

What they're saying: "Access to health care in my mind and in the mind of NAU — it's a human right," university president José Luis Cruz Rivera tells Axios Phoenix.

  • He says they conducted the survey to see how residents in different parts of the state viewed their health care so the school could align its medical offerings with the need.

What they're doing: Cruz Rivera tells us the university is adding more medical education opportunities in these areas so people who live in rural areas can train and stay to offer health care solutions for their communities after graduation.

  • At its main campus, NAU is trying to graduate more nurses, physical and occupational therapists, dental hygienists, physician assistants and mental health professionals to address the overall shortage in the state.
  • About 70% of its graduates stay in Arizona after graduation.
  • NAU's main campus is in Flagstaff, but it offers programs in 20 satellite sites across the state, including rural areas like Yuma, Thatcher, Kingman and Show Low.

Show me the money: The university is offering free tuition to students from households with incomes of $65,000 or less, in hopes of alluring more rural students.

  • NAU has also partnered with community colleges, including Cochise College, Arizona Western College and Eastern Arizona College, to help students transfer into its health programs.

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