Healthbeat: New report finds health inequities most severe in Pennsylvania’s rural areas

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WILKES-BARRE, LUZERNE COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU-TV) — The pandemic has magnified how certain factors are affecting access to healthcare, including COVID-19 vaccines, in Pennsylvania.

A new report finds these health inequities are often driven by geography and race. AARP and Drexel University teamed up for the report. It sheds light on what’s preventing many Pennsylvanians from receiving necessary healthcare.

The report called “Disrupting Disparities in Pennsylvania” examines a disturbing problem in 21st-century Pennsylvania.

“It really highlights how our geographic, racial and ethnic and economic factors are combining all together to restrict access to healthcare services for many Pennsylvanians,” said Angela Foreshaw-Rouse, Manager, State Operations and Outreach, AARP Pennsylvania.

The report reveals healthcare costs are a leading contributor to inequities. For example, the report reveals 18 percent of 45 to 64-year-olds living in Lackawanna, Luzerne and Wyoming Counties reported not being able to see a doctor in the past year because of cost.

The report also shows health inequities are most severe in Pennsylvania’s rural areas among underrepresented populations, particularly Black and Latino communities and low income White households.

“Those individuals who really lack access to healthcare, they would also experience “digital divide” and face persistent local healthcare workforce shortages,” Foreshaw-Rouse said.

“Digital divide” or the lack of technology affects access to healthcare information, telehealth services and what we saw frequently earlier this year: vaccine appointments.

“Our COVID-19 pandemic has also intensified the importance of internet access across the state. Whether you had a smartphone, or a broadband connection we saw that they were social determinants of health,” said Foreshaw-Rouse.

Another obstacle? Pennsylvania’s workforce shortage of healthcare professionals, from doctors and nurses to registered dietitians and social workers and just about every other healthcare position in between.

The report not only identifies problems, but also solutions like expanding broadband access across the commonwealth and bringing healthcare workers up to speed using this technology.

“We need to work properly to prepare a healthcare workforce that would offer telehealth services and provide culturally competent care in the prevention of chronic disease management. That’s very important,” Foreshaw-Rouse said.

Foreshaw-Rouse says the call to action now is especially critical to develop statewide strategies to continue COVID-19 testing and equitable vaccine distribution.

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