Imagine that you’re a 23-year-old single mom raising two small children with another on the way. You live on the outskirts of a small town and the nearest grocery store is seven miles away. You used to work at the gas station down the road, but your manager found a reason to fire you when he found out you were pregnant. Your car broke down last week, and you’ve been bumming rides off your neighbor to get to the store and buy food for your family, but your savings are quickly drying up. You’re also not sure how you’re going to make it to your prenatal appointments since the closest OBGYN is 27 miles away.
This may not be your reality; it’s certainly not mine. For many of Nassau County’s residents, however, this story sound familiar. The west side of Nassau County consists of Bryceville, Callahan, and Hilliard. Despite its relative proximity to the large city of Jacksonville, the area is very rural, with many farms and few stores or doctor’s offices. Many of the families out there love the lifestyle and freedom that come with living in the country. The distance, however, means they are sacrificing the access to healthcare they would experience in the city.
Per a 2014 CDC study, infant mortality (an infant dying before their first birthday) rates are up to 20% higher in rural counties as compared to large urban counties. It’s obvious that something needs to be done, and Healthy Start is trying to reduce that disparity. Every day, I go to the labor and delivery rooms at Baptist Hospital of Nassau to educate new parents about Healthy Start services while providing safe sleep and shaken baby prevention education. Some of these families had to drive almost an hour just to get to the hospital.
Transportation, access to health care, and access to healthy food are all likely contributors to the high infant mortality rates in rural areas. The only bus route in Nassau County has a grand total of two stops in the west side. There isn’t a single pediatrician, OBGYN, or hospital on the west side. There are two grocery stores in the area, but many people still live miles away from either. Rural communities face very unique challenges, and addressing health disparities in these areas may look different than in urban communities. During my service, I’ve seen many clients who have lived on the west side their entire lives. Moving closer to healthcare services isn’t usually something they want to do or can afford.
To increase access for these communities, we need physicians that are willing to open practices in less populated areas, even if it means their business isn’t as lucrative. We need to expand services like Healthy Start that can go into families’ homes and meet them where they’re at. We need more people that are willing to go the distance for rural populations.
This blog post was written by NHC FL AmeriCorps member, Melissa Williams.
Melissa serves at FDOH in Nassau County as Care Coordinator.