I’m fortunate to call Yakima my home. Situated in the heart of Washington and known for its rolling hills, gorgeous landscapes, and rich agricultural soil. After more than 50 years of living, working, and raising a family here – I’ve also witnessed the challenges that come with living in rural Washington, especially for disadvantaged groups that are more vulnerable to the impacts of COVID-19.

The fact is – because of geographic distances and financial difficulties, rural residents lack access to adequate resources like health care. Residents suffer the consequence of living without preventative care and are more prone to issues like chronic pain. Statistically, nearly one in five Americans suffer from chronic pain, but it becomes even more challenging for residents who don’t have immediate access to medical specialists and facilities.

As stated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 24% of rural adults suffer from chronic pain compared to 19% of residents living in urban areas.

Unfortunately, the uneven distribution of health care facilities has worsened with the pandemic. Not to mention, our lives have become almost entirely virtual, and a large portion of rural communities lack basic internet broadband to access tele-health appointments. The financial toll has generated permanent hospital closures across rural Washington and the U.S., creating an even larger gap for residents to seek treatment and often resulting in dependencies on opioids instead.

As a region predominately blessed with agriculture, hardworking farm workers are the powerhouse to the state’s economic health and help bring a variety of food and natural resources to our homes. Most often, the strenuous day-to-day labor leads to long-term chronic issues among the farm worker community.

As the director of Yakima’s KDNA Radio Station, my mission is to bring empowerment to my community of Hispanics/Latinos and help them overcome barriers of literacy, language, discrimination, and poverty through our educational listening programs. I believe in the power of community, and KDNA Radio’s platform has become a voice for disadvantaged communities to feel connected. KDNA’s Opioid Project, launched in 2019, does just that. We provide treatment information, workshops, and special programs to enhance substance abuse prevention. Not to mention, our programs reach over 250,000 Hispanic audiences and agricultural families to equip them with valuable information to access social services and preventative measures against COVID-19 and the opioid epidemic.

Moving forward, I’m calling on our state leaders to make meaningful improvements for our rural and underserved communities – and to support our residents lacking health care options. We cannot afford to deprioritize these needs, especially as we tackle the impacts of those disproportionately hurt by the pandemic.

I’m optimistic that we can make progress. As a start, we must continue to create awareness for these issues so we can support rural residents and chronic pain sufferers and connect them to accessible health care options.

Gilbert Alaniz is the Director of Special Projects at KDNA Radio’s Opioid Prevention Program in Yakima, Washington.

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