2024 Delaware Rural Health Conference

Yesterday I attended the 2024 Delaware Rural Health Conference: The Face of Rural Healthcare Access, Quality & Innovation, being hosted by the Sussex County Health Coalition. Our section, the Office of Healthcare Provider Resources, is tasked with holding an annual rural health conference as one of our State Office of Rural Heath Grant requirements. For the first time, between my previous tenure in my section and in my current role we used a new vendor (SCHC), and the result was amazing. For years it seemed like the same fairly dry conference with a lot of the same faces; attendance was okay, but never great. This year there was almost triple the amount of people and a lot of first timers, many of which had never heard of our conference in years’ past.

While some of the content was similar to that of previous years, it makes sense since a lot of the subject matter around rural health hasn’t changed. What was refreshing was having a national keynote speaker, a panel of federal partners, and a panel of CEOs/Senior management from our southern health systems. There was so much information shared in jam packed day down at the Georgetown campus of Delaware Technical Community College. Having the conference in a rural area, opposed to a centralized location like Dover, provided a great back drop for the day. It allowed our federal partners and attendees from our northern most county experience what the drive may be like for those requiring services that aren’t currently available in their area.

The key to addressing the problems with access to quality health care in rural areas is being able to bring together so many folks from the hospital systems, various government offices, academia, and the private sector, and have them think about and focus their attention on a growing problem both in our state and across the country. Delaware, like all states, has its unique challenges that will require collaboration between all the parties that were in attendance yesterday. With Delaware being so small, we should be able to address issues like our double the national average percentage of opioid abuse, which is even more prevalent in our rural areas. Transportation and housing issues continue to plague our southern two counties, which contribute significantly to healthcare access.

When I was a part of my section as the administrative specialist for nearly 10 years, I didn’t really take much notice of the work we were doing. I mean I was exposed to it and found it interesting sometimes, but it was never top of mind. In my new role, I notice little things like new offices being opened by a health system in a different part of the state or a dentist’s office that closes. Anything related to healthcare on social media or in the news catches my eye, especially if it affects Delaware in some way. Obviously, this makes sense because these types of things can/do affect my day-to-day work. It feels very similar to when you get a new car, you will see that same make and model everywhere. It’s an odd feeling to be in a role where it’s not just punching a clock and having the work be constantly in the back of my mind.

Now that we’ve set a new bar with the Rural Health Conference, we want to at least meet and would like to exceed expectations next year. We’re hoping that with how successful yesterday was, that there will be a lot of buzz going into the fall where we’ll be a part of a larger health workforce conference. With it being an election year both at the Presidential level but also for our governorship, there will be a lot of campaigning going on and healthcare will be a huge part of that. It’ll be a first time that I’m truly invested in the outcomes of the election cycle from a professional standpoint. Growing up is weird, but I’m very much looking forward to what the future holds when it comes to my work.


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