When someone says the word “rural”, it can quickly elicit thoughts of farmland, isolation and abandoned towns with low population density. And with large towns and cities like Chapel Hill, Charlotte and Raleigh, it’s hard to imagine North Carolina having a significant rural citizenry.
Although it may not seem like it, over 40% of North Carolina’s population lives in one of the state’s rural counties, where residents generally have a more difficult time accessing health care due to a lack of physicians, hospitals and medical infrastructure.
What's especially concerning is that rural populations in North Carolina have had a significantly higher mortality rate over metropolitan areas in the last decade. Infant mortality in particular is 16 percent higher than the national average in 29 counties in the Appalachian region of the state.
Additionally, a large portion of national rural community consists of minority populations, and closures of hospitals have disproportionately affected residents living in poverty and in areas with a lack of transportation systems. Individuals living in rural areas also tend to be older and sicker than their metropolitan counterparts, with higher rates of smoking, obesity, heart disease and chronic diseases.
According to recent research, it is more dangerous to deliver a child in the United States today than it was twenty years ago, and this risk is compounded if you are African or Native American, living in a rural area, or are female or under the age of 18. For much of rural North Carolina, nearly all of these boxes are checked.