Rural Access is On the Ballot This November

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With no major federal or state offices up for grabs, it’s likely most people aren’t thinking of this as an election year. But in fact, it is – and for health care champions, there’s one issue on the ballot particularly worth your participation, one that could potentially shape Texas’ health care landscape for a long time to come.

John Hawkins, President/CEO, Texas Hospital Association
John Hawkins

On Nov. 7, voters will decide which of 14 Texas constitutional amendments on the ballot will become law. Between the presidential debates and headline-grabbing news at both the state and national levels, it’s no surprise if this election slipped under your radar. But among those amendments is a broadband internet measure that we at the Texas Hospital Association are hoping will earn overwhelming support.

Proposition 8, or HJR 125, would create a broadband infrastructure fund for expanding high-speed internet access across Texas. The program will allocate $1.5 billion to expanding broadband infrastructure to 7 million Texans who currently don’t have high-speed access.

That would greatly bolster our ability to care for rural Texans, translating into higher access to health care services through hospital-at-home programs and telehealth – two care modalities that proved effective during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

It’s no secret that access to care in rural areas is one of this state’s most important – and most difficult – areas for improvement. Large distances between hospitals in these communities is an unavoidable fact of life, recruiting hospital workforce to the remotest parts of Texas is always a challenge, and the sparse populations in those communities limit the amount of tax revenue that can flow into the hospitals that serve them.

Following the pandemic, rural hospitals have encountered continuing challenges under the weight of financial and workforce pressures. Last year, the THA-commissioned Kaufmann Hall report showed that 26% of rural hospitals in Texas were at risk of closure, as compared to 5% for urban hospitals. Rural providers who keep their doors open find their resources stretched to their limits, especially during times of crisis.

But the use of telehealth services during the pandemic mitigated some of these problems. The increasing acceptance of telemedicine as a viable treatment modality – with the right circumstances and proper regulations in place – is one of the bright spots in today’s shifting care landscape. It’s a necessary piece we must have to face the realities of caring for rural populations. As such, high-speed broadband access is one of the most powerful tools for bridging the gap between patients and care, especially in vulnerable populations in Texas’ rural regions.

Your votes matter. Showing up at the polls on Nov. 7 – or between Oct. 23 and Nov. 3 for early voting – to cast your vote for broadband could determine whether a patient gets to see a doctor when they need one.

In an age in which just about every service is enhanced in some way by internet connectivity, health care services are not the exception to the rule. Broadband services are becoming a necessity as rural hospitals strain under the pressures of the post-COVID-19 world. Our hope is that all Texans – patients, hospital workers and officials, and other stakeholders – educate themselves on this incredible opportunity to help communities stay healthy. And when it’s time to cast your vote, vote to help connect our hospitals and health care facilities with every Texan who needs them.

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