Health-care may grow as retirees flock to rural areas

Population in the rural counties is growing, but people aren't moving to the high desert for the scenic views; they're seeking a life on the cheap.

And on the heels of affordable housing, people will seek affordable health care. When that population arrives, the Northern Nevada Development Authority wants the region ready to benefit.

"These are the jobs of the future for people aged 25 to 44," says Ron Weisinger, executive director. "This will bring high-paying jobs and those workers will, in turn, drive demand for retail and services."

But what services, exactly, will be in demand?

Business and health care consultant Mark Rosenberg says, "The over-65 and Hispanic populations will grow at a rate much higher than the population as a whole." He helped prepare a grant proposal that the development authority submitted, seeking about $200,000 to study health care needs in Churchill, Douglas, Lyon, Mineral, Pershing and Storey counties and Carson City.

The study will identify rural health resources, determine needs, figure out how those needs can best be met, and finally, target who will provide the services. It takes a long view to 20204 although 10 years is a more manageable timeframe, says Rosenberg.

While the funding may be provided by a state agency, the Nevada Commission on Economic Development, the end result medical services to seniors and immigrants will be an entrepreneurial effort.

The goal, says Rosenberg, is to direct the attention of health care providers to the developing opportunity.

Within the first 10 years of moving to a rural area, retirees do not need to travel for medical care.

But then, says Weisinger, health difficulties begin to arise for seniors. He looks ahead to the burgeoning senior population, then extrapolates health care staffing needs. The result? The rural counties should prepare now to provide those services.

The effort, he says, will take cooperation between the Carson Tahoe Regional Medical Center and the rural economic development agencies, along with the 11 Chambers of Commerce and a variety of licensed medical facilities in the rural counties.

Ed Epperson, chief executive officer at Carson Tahoe Hospital in Carson City, says his hospital needs to stay involved with the needs of outlying counties.

"For 10 years, we've been the provider of health care in Dayton. We were the first to put services down in the Carson Valley when it was considered rural. And no other followed for 15 years. We were the first to provide services in Topaz."

Cheri Glockner, marketing lead coordinator at the hospital, notes that the hospital partners with Med Direct, which operates urgent care centers in the rural counties. Lyon County, with its burgeoning population, is the primary rural focus, while more distant areas are considered a secondary market.

One drawback that rural clinics need to overcome, she adds, is residents' reluctance to take their business to the corner clinic.

"People tend to think they'll get better care if they go to the big city," she says. But that thinking bleeds business from local hospitals, such as those in Hawthorne or Humboldt County. And that makes it tough for them to stay in business.

But high-tech hospital care is not what people need on a regular basis.

Primary care is the capstone to serving the growing population of older retired people, says Epperson, followed by diagnostic and lab services, urgent care, and physical therapy.

And those are the mid-level health care providers that Weisinger hopes his agency's efforts will start to attract now to avert a rural health care crisis in the future.


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