Rural Minnesota to Face Medical Crisis over Next 30 Years

A recent report on the State of Rural Minnesota released by the Center for Rural Policy and Development demonstrates how Minnesota’s demographic makeup is quickly shifting, with the state looking drastically different in the next 30 years. By 2045, the Center projects that rural counties (without universities) will see large increases in groups of seniors, as will some metropolitan counties.

Specifically, 12 counties by 2045 will have at least 29% of its population over the age of 65. Lake of the Woods, St. Louis, Lake, Cook, Aitkin, and Koochiching counties are some of the state’s most rural areas, and will face serious problems, specifically in caring for senior citizens.

Face Aging MN, a statewide campaign to increase awareness pertaining to Minnesota’s aging population, says 25% of the population will be 65 or older by 2045. One problem facing the aging population of Minnesota is a lack of health resources.

Dr. Julie Benson, MD, FAAFP, Family Physician with Lakewood Health System in Staples, MN and President of Minnesota Network of Hospice & Palliative Care, tells Alpha News that “hospice and palliative care needs of our seniors are growing but the number of people trained to take care of them is not keeping up with the pace.” Benson adds, “Most specialists are employed in large hospitals or urban settings,” which puts the aging rural population in a predicament, resulting in rural seniors obtaining worse quality care and problems associated with lack of access.

Face Aging MN suggests that the state will ultimately need a drastic increase in its number of physicians, approximately 25,000 in total. In addition, the campaign believes that it is vital that the state increases access to healthcare for seniors, explaining, “Making a comprehensive range of care options available in more communities will keep seniors living more independently for longer.”

There are many organizations working to improve rural health care systems, but one of the most prominent is the American Society on Aging.  In 2014 it released 8 tips to improve healthy aging for rural citizens. One tip calls for increasing awareness of already existing health care services. In many communities there are plenty of resources available to the aging public in place, but information pertaining to these resources is not easily accessible to seniors. Another tip notes the importance of revitalizing “senior centres” to decrease their stigma, while also promoting them as a valuable resource for seniors to stay healthy.

The issue of improving health care for rural areas has gotten more attention than usual as of late. Last November Governor Mark Dayton proclaimed November 19th as “Rural Health Day.” This proclamation is meant to celebrate the rural health resources that are already available and to recognize the challenges of having strong medical services in less-populated areas. Dayton acknowledges that fostering a quality rural health care system, “requires creativity and resourcefulness that reaches beyond geographic boundaries or demographic challenges.” Creativity and resourcefulness will indeed be necessary in ample amounts to specifically help the aging population in Minnesota in the coming years.

To continue to learn more about problems facing rural Minnesotans and seniors, make sure to subscribe to Alpha News.