AUGUSTA — Winter is upon us, and there’s no better time to prioritize health and safety in Maine. Mainers are known for being hardy and hardworking, but we’re still vulnerable to a number of issues that affect our health and productivity.

Unfortunately, many Mainers are in poor health. In terms of preventable hospitalizations, the Pine Tree State ranks 28th in the country – behind other rural states such as North Dakota and Wyoming.

In many cases, the most pressing issue is access to care, which affects Mainers of all ages and in all geographic areas. Countless residents don’t live near a medical care facility or provider, while others can’t afford health care services.

This is especially true in rural parts of the state, where trees are plentiful, but health care and dental providers are hard to come by. In Somerset County, for example, there are fewer than 42 primary care providers per 100,000 people. In fact, there are only about 194 primary care providers statewide. In states like Rhode Island, there are over 264 primary care providers per 100,000 people.

While Maine is making progress through efforts like Medicaid expansion, lack of health insurance is another problem. In Somerset County, over 11 percent of residents are uninsured – well above the 8.6 percent national average. The rate of uninsured residents in northeastern Maine is also significantly higher than in central or southern Maine, indicating a significant disparity in health access based on ZIP code.

Such circumstances lead to a wide range of negative health outcomes – from diabetes and high blood pressure to cancer. For example, Maine ranks 39th in the country for cancer mortality, with over 205 deaths per 100,000 people.

So the question becomes: What can we do to improve health outcomes in Maine?

The solution is access. By partnering with public officials, private organizations can have a real and lasting impact on the lives of Maine residents. Over the last 52 years, Medical Care Development has collaborated with countless partners to establish a number of programs and resources, focused on improving health access and outcomes. These include but are not limited to the first rural family practice residency program, Maine Emergency Medical Services, the Pediatric Nurse Association, the Maine Public Health Association and many others.

In Lincoln County, Medical Care Development partners with local officials to expand access to healthy choices for residents, such as working with local law enforcement and schools on youth substance-use prevention and tobacco-free living and collaborating with local farmers to address food insecurity. On a statewide level, we partner with local municipalities to provide education and resources to employees with diabetes, improving daily management and health outcomes.

However, organizations like Medical Care Development cannot help others without the assistance of elected officials, who are instrumental in sparking conversations and supporting resources for public health.

That’s where Maine is fortunate, as our state leaders have made health care access a top priority – from committing resources to combat the opioid epidemic, to working with statewide partners on transforming our rural health system. When Medical Care Development recently received the P3 Impact Award from the U.S. State Department, Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King, among others, were quick to recognize our work and the importance of public health initiatives at large. Collins, for instance, emphasized “the power of collaboration among governments, research institutions, and public health organizations.”

Of course, the power of that work goes beyond Maine. Since the 1970s, Medical Care Development’s international team has worked in over 30 countries to help communities take on malaria and other infectious diseases. Under Medical Care Development’s leadership, public-private partnerships reduced malaria transmission on Equatorial Guinea’s Bioko Island by 99 percent and decreased deaths in children by over 60 percent.

That model works in Maine, too. As a Maine-based organization, we have a duty to serve our neighbors first and foremost. In November, we celebrated National Rural Health Day, recognizing health professionals and volunteers for their efforts to improve the health and well-being of people who call rural America home. Medical Care Development believes that by working together to address the challenges of rural health every day, we can achieve improved health across Maine.

The key to a healthier Maine is health care access in rural communities. Only by working together can we achieve that goal.


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