New Report Reveals Significant Challenges for North Carolina’s Rural Communities

For Immediate Release
June 28, 2022

New Report Reveals Significant Challenges for North Carolina’s Rural Communities

30 percent of North Carolina Counties have no active licensed psychologist; North Carolina ranks third in the nation for rural hospital closures

Cary, NC — The North Carolina Rural Health Association’s (NCRHA) 2022 NC Rural Health Snapshot reveals significant challenges for the state’s most vulnerable communities and populations in mental healthcare, maternity services, and access to care. The report finds that of North Carolina’s 100 counties, 30 have no active, practicing psychologist, according to the UNC Cecil G. Sheps Center for Health Services. This finding comes as symptoms of anxiety and depression due to the COVID-19 pandemic have increased across North Carolina.

“The data highlighted in this year’s Rural Health Snapshot exemplifies the importance of supporting the health and well-being needs of our most vulnerable communities and elevating the voices of rural healthcare leaders from across the state,” said Donald Hughes, Director of Community Voice at the Foundation for Health Leadership and Innovation (FHLI). “The North Carolina Rural Health Association works to help every community become as healthy as possible by facilitating valuable connections, linking to resources, and sharing best practices.”

Other highlights from the NC Rural Snapshot include:

Fewer Places to Safely Give Birth
Between 2014 and 2019, 13 maternity units — or entire hospitals that contain maternity units — closed in rural North Carolina counties. Because access to maternity care in rural areas is heavily dependent on hospital infrastructure, this trend is concerning for North Carolina mothers and babies. 

An Unsettling Distinction in Rural Hospital Closures
North Carolina ranked 3rd in rural hospital closures, with 11 closures since 2005. Compounding the hardship, among the state’s rural hospitals, approximately 30 percent (15 out of 50) are vulnerable to closing because of financial deficits, according to a study from the Chartis Group in 2020.

Unmet Behavioral Health Needs
According to Mental Health America, North Carolina ranked 34th out of all states for adults with a mental illness who did not receive treatment in 2021 (56.5%).

“The health challenges our rural communities face are immense,” added Hughes. “The North Carolina Rural Health Association, supported by our members and the Foundation for Health Leadership & Innovation, believe expanding Medicaid is an important and crucial step to improving and saving lives in rural communities. It is our hope the legislature will act in this session. Now is the time.”

NCRHA — formerly known as the North Carolina Rural Health Leadership Alliance — announced its new name, more inclusive approach, and vision for a healthier future for North Carolina’s most vulnerable communities at a legislative breakfast in early June. In addition, attendees received a copy of the 2022 NC Rural Health Snapshot. The full report is available here.


About the Foundation for Health Leadership & Innovation (FHLI)

Launched in 1982 under the leadership of James D. Bernstein, the Foundation for Health Leadership & Innovation develops innovative programs—and helps establish strong partnerships—that advance affordable, sustainable, quality health services that improve the overall health of communities in North Carolina and beyond.

FHLI programs include

  • Jim Bernstein Community Health Leadership Fellows
  • Jim & Sue Bernstein Health Center Scholarship
  • Center of Excellence for Integrated Care
  • Results NC
  • NCCARE360
  • NC Oral Health Collaborative
  • The NC Rural Health Association

About the North Carolina Rural Health Association (NCRHA)

A program of FHLI, the North Carolina Rural Health Association is a collaborative network of associations, organizations, and individuals representing healthcare, education, economic development, local government, and a variety of rural leaders invested in supporting rural health. NCRHA is committed to amplifying the voice of North Carolina’s rural communities to improve the health and well-being of all citizens. NCRHA is also recognized by the National Rural Health Association (NRHA) as North Carolina’s state rural health association.

For more information, contact:
Donald Hughes, Director of Community Voice
Foundation for Health Leadership & Innovation | P: 919.726.4028