Healthcare advocates – particularly those most concerned with delivering quality services to rural areas of Oklahoma – will gather this fall to discuss the challenges facing the state and to honor rural providers.

The 2023 Oklahoma Rural Health Conference is set for Nov. 2-3 at the Hilton Garden Inn and Conference Center in Edmond.

The conference, held annually, focuses on healthcare delivery and serves as a showcase for the state’s overall efforts to address current and future healthcare challenges in rural areas. The conference also bestows the honor of Oklahoma’s top rural health advocate for 2022. 

Delivering adequate healthcare to lesser-populated areas is a challenge here and in other states where residents are scattered. According to 2020 U.S. Census figures, about a third of Oklahoma’s roughly 3.9 million inhabitants are considered residents of “non-metropolitan areas.”

Rural healthcare delivery is the focus of both the state’s Rural Health Association and the Oklahoma Office of Rural Health. The state office and similar centers in the other 49 states have the backing of the National Organization of State Offices of Rural Health.

A Decades-Long Effort

For the past several decades, efforts to deliver rural healthcare have been supported as part of an overall federal mandate.

The National Rural Health Association was created to assist state rural health offices in their efforts to improve access to healthcare and to improve the quality of care rural residents receive, according to the national organization’s website. Some 61 million Americans are considered rural residents.

Oklahoma’s Rural Health Office has a staff of three, according to its website, which states that office personnel work with rural communities to help ensure their healthcare infrastructure is economically viable. The staff also works to broaden and improve the access and quality of health care services, seeks to help stabilize rural hospital finances and to educate the public and policymakers about rural health issues.

The status of healthcare in Oklahoma has gained the attention of at least one policy advocacy group, the Oklahoma Poor People’s Campaign.

Poor People’s Campaign board member Marilyn Knott recently wrote an opinion article that was published in The Oklahoman. Knott stated that providing quality healthcare in rural areas depends on the availability of well-trained providers.

“Many people prefer living in rural Oklahoma,” Knott wrote. “We need to surround them with the services needed to let them prosper in place.”

In a later interview, Knott, who retired as the State Human Services Department’s administrator of planning, policy and research, said that healthcare in rural parts of Oklahoma is in peril, due in part to distances from adequate care and also due to hospital closings from inadequate profit margins.

“No one should have to drive 100 miles to have a baby,” she said.


Oklahoma Office of Rural Health

Oklahoma Rural Health Association

National Organization of State Offices of Rural Health

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