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Faculty member helps address rural health disparities



The chair of the NDSU Department of Public Health has contributed to a plan to address health disparities in rural areas. Dr. Donald Warne, Mary J. Berg Distinguished Professor in Women’s Health, is a member of the National Advisory Committee on Rural Health and Human Services that has released a policy brief on disparities in health care.

Social Determinants of Health,” outlines a five-point plan to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to help address such disparities. As it researched poverty, rates of chronic disease, homelessness, partner violence and life expectancy, the committee found rural areas fare worse than urban or suburban areas.

“We work closely with the Health Resources and Services Administration and the Department of Health and Human Services, focusing on the unique health needs of rural communities,” Warne explained. “Since we have unique social determinants of health in North Dakota and in other rural populations, this report offers a great opportunity to elevate our needs and circumstances on a national stage.”

According to the document, the Department of Health and Human Services should consider geography; wealth, income and poverty; education and labor markets; and transportation, when distributing resources.

The report suggests these action steps for the department:

• Development of a federal “Healthy Communities” designation to recognize community-driven plans to address the social determinants of health, and provide inter-agency federal support through preference points, technical assistance and consolidated funding streams.

• Facilitation of coordination and collaboration among hospitals, health systems and human service providers on Community Health Needs Assessments and Community Benefit Agreements to develop local strategies addressing social determinants of health.

• Structure grant review panels to allow rural applicants to be reviewed as a separate cohort in order to compete against similarly resourced communities.

• Encouragement of using priority points for rural applications that face challenges such as geographic isolation, low population density, higher poverty and lower life expectancy.

• Offer technical assistance and Funding Opportunity Announcements that highlight how rural organizations can factor administrative costs of managing grants into budgets and project plans.

“The recommendations associated within this brief encourage the department to build a more generative approach that works across sectors to address the multi-dimensional health and socioeconomic challenges of individuals and families,” concluded the report, which emerged from the committee’s January meeting in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Warne, who joined NDSU in 2011, earned his bachelor’s degree from Arizona State University, his Doctor of Medicine at Stanford University School of Medicine and his Master of Public Health from the Harvard School of Public Health.

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