Voices from the Gila: health care issues for rural elders in south-western New Mexico


Jennifer Averill,
College of Nursing,
University of New Mexico,
2502 Marble Avenue,
NM 87131-5688,
E-mail: javerill@salud.unm.edu


Background and rationale.  A goal of the Healthy People 2010 initiative is to reduce or eliminate health disparities in vulnerable populations, including populations from rural and minority ethnic backgrounds. Rural communities, including elderly populations, experience lower rates of personal income, educational attainment, health-insurance coverage, access to emergency and specialty care services, and reported health status than do urban communities. A need exists to address identified research priorities, such as the perceptions of rural elders, their family members, and health care providers.

Aims.  The purposes of this study were to explore the health care perceptions, needs, and definitions of health for multicultural rural elders in one county of south-western New Mexico, and to consider practice implications.

Ethical issues and approval.  Informed consent procedures followed the University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center Human Research Review Committee guidelines.

Research methods.  This critical ethnography incorporated ethnographic interviews, ethnographic participant observation, photography, review of pertinent documents, and analysis of contextual factors. The sample consisted of 22 participants.

Results/findings.  Definitions of health varied with socioeconomic status, encompassing avoidance of contact with the health care system, obtaining needed medications, remaining independent, a sense of spiritual belonging, eating wisely, and exercising moderately. Three major concerns emerged from the analysis: the escalating cost of prescription drugs, access-to-care issues, and social isolation.

Study limitations.  The primary limitation was the small sample size. Although the researcher's position as an outsider to local communities may also have affected the outcome, it provided fresh insight to regional problems.

Conclusions.  The study addressed national research priorities for a vulnerable group of rural elders. Nursing implications include the need for expanded knowledge and educational preparation regarding elder issues and community-level services, inclusion of elders' perspectives in the planning and delivery of health services, and the need for community-level, interdisciplinary collaboration and advocacy.