MANCHESTER — Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg said his rural health plan will help shore up New Hampshire hospitals at risk of closure, cope with the shuttering of nine maternity wards, and cope with a chronic shortage of health care workers especially needed to work in small towns.
The South Bend, Ind., mayor is expected to present his plan Friday.
The Union Leader received an advance copy of the report along with detailed findings for how it would impact New Hampshire, a state in which one third of its residents and 44 percent of veterans live in rural areas.
“It is time to break with the politics of the past, meet the urgency of this moment, and usher in a new era for rural America,” Buttigieg said in a statement.
“We need to lift rural communities up as places of opportunity, both for this generation and future ones. That work begins with securing the health of all rural residents.”
Studies have shown that five of the state’s 17 rural hospitals, or 30 percent, are at risk of closure.
Buttigieg would seek a new designation for rural health centers to become rural emergency medical centers that would ensure they can receive Medicare payments and remain open. This would only be applied where it was appropriate, Buttigieg said.
He also would support new models of care and financing that could include creating a community outreach hospital, rural health clinic or school-based health center.
The Henry J. Kaiser Foundation has concluded only 45 percent of New Hampshire’s need for mental health professionals is being met and there’s a shortage of nearly 2,000 health care workers statewide.
Buttigieg would expand the public service loan forgiveness program to include work in rural private hospital and practice groups. He also wants to encourage immigrant doctors to work in rural areas here and elsewhere by waiving the requirement to return to their home countries if they come to work in a medically under served area for those two years.
Eleanor Cochrane of Hancock is a retired registered nurse from a large family medical practice at a regional medical center.
"Mayor Buttigieg’s plan for meeting the challenges of healthcare in rural New Hampshire and across the country focuses on areas that are critically important right now," Cochrane said.
"The shortage of primary care providers, including nurse practitioners and physician assistants, needs new emphasis and demands innovative ways of attracting and keeping those providers in rural communities. This applies to family medicine, women’s health, mental health, addiction treatment and veterans’ services. Of special note is his plan to support women’s reproductive health and wellness at a time when Planned Parenthood has been under siege from Republican lawmakers. So many women, and men, under the age of 40 get their entire preventive healthcare from Planned Parenthood."
Since 2000, nine maternity wards in New Hampshire have closed, including four in the Upper Valley.
Buttigieg said his plan would increase grants for family planning services in rural areas, improve data collection on maternity mortality in rural areas, and require training to address “implicit bias and racism” in hospitals and other health care settings.
For veterans, Buttigieg said he wants to strengthen the collaboration between VA hospitals and other providers in the community.
“Further, inefficiencies in well-intentioned rural VA hospitals and clinics are viewed as deeply disrespectful and can turn rural veterans away from VA services for a long time, despite their resounding desire for VA health care,” Buttigieg said in his plan.
With New Hampshire the only state in the lower 48 states without a full-service VA hospital, veterans often have to travel more than an hour for health care appointments.
Buttigieg supports the government-run Medicare for All program of health insurance and would fight any Republican attempts to weaken the federal Affordable Care Act.
“At the end of the day, America is only as healthy as rural America. With the right attention and investments, we can lift the lives of millions of our fellow Americans and unleash the untapped potential of rural America,” Buttigieg added.