Rural Behavioral Health

As a person ages, whether a late “boomer” or a senior … living rural means living one’s roots. Yet there are health challenges associated with aging in place in a rural community, including limited access to a range of health care services.

As the United States goes silver, many older adults are choosing to age in the rural town where they grew up — or in places they have come to call home — which are outside of major cities and crowded suburbs.

Today, people think of rural areas as those towns in Midwestern states, west of the Mississippi all the way to the Dakotas and further west past Idaho. However, they would be mistaken. The top three rural states are Vermont, Maine and Colorado! Where does the word “rural” come from? “Rural” stems from Latin’s rūrālis, meaning “of the countryside.”

With the understanding of the word rural, it is not too hard to understand why people still want to live in the countryside. Access to care however, is a central issue for rural Americans. Research finds that older adults who live in rural areas tend to have more health problems and take more medications than their peers in urban areas.

The number of Americans ages 65 and older will more than double by 2060, according to PRB analysis (the Population Reference Bureau) of data from the U.S. Census Bureau.

As PRB states, “although U.S. policymakers and others have had many decades to plan for the inevitable aging of the baby boom cohort, it is not
clear that sufficient preparations have been made to meet baby boomers’
anticipated needs in old age.” A report by the CDC titled “The State of Mental Health and Aging in America” found that at least 20% of Americans over 55-years-old experience a mental health problem every year.

2.3 Million residents will live in nursing homes by 2030 and the reason is high divorce rates and fewer children among baby boomers which reduces the family caregiver pool in their future. To age in place, many rural Americans find it necessary to live in Assisted Living or Skilled Nursing Facilities and rely on Medicare and Medicaid.

The Well-Being of Older Americans

The Well-Being of Older Americans

It is not too hard to understand why people would want to return to rural areas in their later years. Access to care, however, is a central issue for those Americans. Research finds that older adults who live in rural areas tend to have more health problems and take more medications than their urban-dwelling peers. And, their health needs are psychological as well as physical. A report by the CDC titled “The State of Mental Health and Aging in America” found that at least 20% of Americans over 55 experience a mental-health problem every year.

As a result, the aging population in the United States’ rural areas has a concentrated need for comprehensive medical care, but this group has difficultly accessing it. The only things that make this problem more severe is a spike in the number of people living in rural areas who need care combined with an increasing shortage in qualified medical providers, particularly in the mental-health sector. Research published by the New American Economy found more than 60 percent of all counties in the United States, including 80 percent of all rural counties, do not have a single psychiatrist. Put another way, the same study found that in rural counties, a mere 590 psychiatrists serve more than 27 million Americans.

As data analysis from the Population Reference Bureau (PRB) states, “although U.S. policymakers and others have had many decades to plan for the inevitable aging of the baby boom cohort, it is not clear that sufficient preparations have been made to meet baby boomers’ anticipated needs in old age.”

By 2030, all baby boomers will be older than 65. This will expand the size of the older population so that one in every five residents will be at the age of retirement. By 2035, the United States will have more seniors who are 65 or older than there will be children under 18.

How did Forefront Telecare have the wisdom to face this issue head-on by starting its its business in Rural America?

The Opportunity at the Forefront of Rural Health

Forefront Telecare began when one of the company co-founders, Phil Knudsen, experienced his mother’s decline with Alzheimer’s. How would he stay in contact with her when he lived miles away from her? Where were the physicians, skilled in mental-health care, practicing near his mother’s home? There weren’t many. When he investigated Alzheimer’s and what his mother was experiencing, he knew there had to be a better way.

He wanted both a strong support network for his mother and emotional help for her depression. With telehealth technology, it was suddenly possible to work with skilled nursing facilities, hospitals and other providers to gain access to mental healthcare as those on site were caring for the physical needs of a patient.

The shortage of psychiatrists nationwide, the lack of access to high-quality behavioral health options in rural communities and the mental-health crisis among older Americans proved to the founders of Forefront Telecare that they could be a necessary part of the healthcare ecosystem.

Forefront is a pioneer and U.S. leader in the delivery of behavioral health services via a unique HIPAA-compliant telehealth platform that incorporates software, hardware and comprehensive service protocols developed over years in the field.

The national provider network of psychiatrists, psychiatric nurse practitioners and other behavioral health professionals that Forefront developed serves the behavioral health needs of the facilities, providers and patients. Through flexible scheduling technology, logistics and management systems combined with Forefront’s deep behavioral health experience, Forefront creates solutions that effectively integrate with existing facility systems, provider schedules and overall workflows.

As a result, rural Americans are getting the emotional help they need. As one nurse practitioner working in a skilled nursing facility said, “I’m taking care of my math teacher now. He was so helpful to me as a child. Now it is my turn.”

Testimonial

“We have had excellent tele-psych services provided by Forefront for our residents each week. Our facility loves the efficiency and innovative services Forefront provides....and most importantly, our residents love it.”

– Community Compassion Center of Batesville