Voices on Oregon’s health care services

Voices on Oregon’s health care services

Oregonians deserve health care where they live

No matter your zip code, town, city, neighborhood or county, all Oregonians deserve to receive health care. An overwhelming takeaway from the Oregon Voices survey, which asked residents from across the state for their personal experiences with a variety of critical issues, concluded that this is not the case.

Health care proved to be a big concern, with survey respondents volunteering their thoughts and stories on how the availability of services — or lack of them — affects their lives and communities. The data make it clear: Many Oregonians are experiencing difficulties accessing what they need to keep healthy and well, particularly in rural areas. Without the availability of care, health outcomes can become dire, affecting every facet of life.

“Oregon Voices survey respondents made an urgent call for more health care options where they live,” says Kara Inae Carlisle, president and CEO of The Ford Family Foundation, “giving policymakers an authentic window into the staggering consequences of the inequitable distribution of services.”

The Oregon Voices team recently released an issue brief highlighting respondents’ top areas of concern: limited rural access to health services and lack of mental health care.


Rural access

“There are no mental health, hospitals, dentists or eye doctors in Sherman County and only one family Medicaid provider.”
— Rural respondent, Sherman County

It is well documented that people living in rural communities have higher rates of chronic disease and suicide, worse maternal health, and limited access to care compared to adults in cities.

“In the Oregon Voices survey, respondents told us loud and clear that where they live determines the availability of basic health care services,” says Kasi Allen, the Foundation’s lead researcher and director of the Learning and Knowledge Management department. “People in rural areas reported fewer health care options near their home and having to travel longer distances for care.”

“It is clear that health care is not equitably available to all Oregonians, and that has a direct effect on the physical and mental well-being of our rural residents.”

Consider this: Maternity care and birth centers are scarce across rural Oregon and nonexistent in Columbia, Crook, Curry, Gilliam, Morrow, Polk, Sherman and Wheeler counties. Four counties — Columbia, Gilliam, Sherman and Wheeler — have no licensed hospital.

“Our medical people don’t stay,” said a Lane County respondent. “In the past 10 years, I have had six different doctors. They constantly change. When I was growing up, I had the same doctor from birth to my teens.”

Respondents talked about how they are burdened by having to travel long distances for care. They noted the difficulty of attracting and retaining health professionals. They lamented the lack of addiction and mental health services. Challenges accessing care were reported more often by respondents who identified as living in rural areas, who had lower household income, who were younger, and who identified as Black, Indigenous or a person of color.


Mental health services

“We have no mental health that is reliable or enough services because of being rural. It is very sad for our young people — to me we have had way too many teen suicides.”
— Rural respondent, Union County

Even though 20% of Oregon adults live with an ongoing mental health condition, mental health care is not available in every part of Oregon. In Benton County, for example, there are 80 people for every mental health provider. In more rural areas, that ratio is much different; Gilliam County counts 668 potential clients for every one provider.

Rural children also face special challenges, with a recent CDC study finding that young people with mental, behavioral, and developmental disorders face more family and community challenges than their urban counterparts. More than half of Oregon Voices respondents age 29 and younger described their mental health as poor or fair.

Respondents shared their personal stories about how medical care deficits in their communities have affected their families. “I recently lost my father due to him not getting the mental/medical help he needed,” said one Douglas County resident. “He wasn’t in his right mind and by the time we were able to get him some help, he passed away a few days later.”

“Adequate health care is obviously a grave concern for many Oregonians, no matter where they live,” says Allen. “Respondents shared heartfelt and sometimes heart-wrenching stories. It is our hope that the survey data proves valuable to policymakers and community leaders.”


Oregon Voices is an innovative listening project from The Ford Family Foundation and its research partners, Portland State University and ECONorthwest, that aims to learn more about the lived experiences of households in our state.

Download the health care issue brief at orvoices.org/health.

For other issue briefs, as well as interactive tools and a look at the rich data set and personal stories collected by Oregon Voices, visit orvoices.org.


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