SERA-19 Rural Health

Proposal to Extend Southern Regional Extension and Research Activity Information Exchange Group (SERA-IEG)


June 20, 2003


The Importance of Health to Rural Communities - Economic Impacts and Control and Prevention of Disease and Injury


Rural community leaders are facing huge challenges relative (1) to control of chronic diseases often associated with underlying life style patterns and (2) to maintain health services vital to the economic health of the community.

The need for increased control and prevention of chronic disease can be illustrated by considering the causes of death and significant risk factors. In the United States, 7 of 10 deaths and the vast majority of serious illness, disability, and health care costs are caused by chronic disease. More than two-thirds of all deaths each year are caused by 5 chronic diseases - heart disease, cancer, stroke, chronic pulmonary diseases such as asthma, bronchitis, emphysema, and diabetes. Underlying these serious diseases are several important risk factors; poor nutrition, lack of physical activity, tobacco use and other exposures that may be modified and thereby help to reduce associated morbidity and mortality. Although health care spending has risen to $1.4 trillion (2001 statistics), health disparities remain a major concern and 40.5 million uninsured Americans under the age of 65 continue to have very limited access to medical care. With the current economic slowdown, the number of uninsured and underinsured increases daily. Furthermore, the rates of uninsured and underinsured are greatest in rural areas.

The economic issues stem from the fact that the health sector is critical to the economic viability of rural communities. The health sector is critical because it employees a large number of workers, is important for industrial and business growth, and is needed to attract retirees. Research has demonstrated that the health sector is responsible for from 10-15 percent of a community's employment. If the secondary benefit is added (that is the jobs created in other sectors due to health sector spending) the total employment impact if from 15 to 20 percent. Research indicates that if a community desires to attract business and industry, the two quality of life variables that a community must have is quality health and education services. If a community desires to attract retirees as a development strategy, research further indicates that the quality of life variables are health and safety.

Because health care is so critical to human well-being and community well-being, and because concern for health care crosses so many disciplines, an extension of this information exchange group is essential. The information exchange group will continue to bring together professionals in the Land-Grant system, offices of rural health, medical and nursing schools, and state health departments, allowing bridges to be built between and among the disciplines involved.


This information exchange group has been extremely active and productive for eight years. During its earlier years, the group prepared joint publications, sponsored multi-discipline, multi-agency conferences, and worked jointly across state lines on joint projects. The SERA helped foster and expand many multi-state projects. Recently the group has concentrated its efforts on conducting the Southern Extension Health Institute. The week-long Institute has been presented for the past three years. The Institute was designed to provide Extension agents with a unique opportunity to participate in an intensive state-of-the-art health training program (and the option of early three graduate credits). It was designed to give participants an increased understanding of health systems, Extension's role in health, and tools and strategies for working with individual, family, and community health issues. Evaluations of the Institute have been very positive.

The SERA has also been a leader in the region by forming collaborations with other units outside the land-grant system. These other partners have included professionals from the School of Medicine and State Offices of Rural Health.


The objectives of the extended SERA-IEG 19 are to exchange current information on the status of new research findings and extension programs related to rural health and safety issues, to gain regional perspective on current rural health problems, and to consider and undertake joint activities that might be expected to strengthen Extension's role in protecting the health and safety of the public. The SERA also has the opportunity to strengthen the research component and membership to include relevant and interested researchers from both the land-grant and other sectors of the universities.

It is anticipated that some of the topics to be addressed during the information exchange will be:

  • Building public-private coalitions for health;
  • Health facilities and service providers;
  • Health care financing;
  • Community-based health education programming;
  • Maternal and child, adolescent, and adult health; and
  • Agricultural safety and health.


Based on the success of the first eight years of the SERA and a strong desire by member to continue, the current group has tentatively arranged for a meeting this fall 2003 or spring 2004. That, of course, is pending approval of this extension. Our goal at this meeting is to plan joint activities and projects for the coming years. The group is also making an effort to get more professionals involved and to have participation from all Southern States. During recent years, the group has sponsored the health institute and held one joint meeting. Because of budget limitations, the group will limit as far as practical, separate meetings and will meet in conjunction with regional or national meetings its members are likely to attend.

Kinds of Participation in Activity

Representatives of the following agencies will participate in the SERA: Extension Services, Agricultural Experiment Station, Offices of Rural Health, Primary Care Offices, Medical and Nursing Schools, State Health Departments, and other health care professionals.