Supporting mental health care access in rural communities

By Regence
May 21, 2024
Idaho crisis campaign cropped

People utilizing mental health services has increased by more than 39% in recent years, and with such a drastic increase it’s easy to assume that people have equal access to care. Unfortunately, that's far from the truth, especially for individuals living in rural communities.

Approximately 46 million people in the United States live in a rural area, and they face greater challenges in accessing mental health care. The reasons are varied, but examples include fewer mental health providers, limited access to broadband internet which makes it difficult to participate in telehealth appointments, and in some instances, a more deeply entrenched fear and stigma associated with receiving mental health care. Language barriers and the lack of culturally competent care are significant issues as well; more than 20% of rural residents identify with ethnic and racial minority groups and often struggle to find providers who understand their culture. Meanwhile, more than 1 in 5 adults in the United States live with a mental health condition.

Investing $11.5 million to address the issue

Rural Mental Health graphic

While people in rural areas already faced difficulties in mental health care access, the COVID-19 pandemic made things worse. Since 2020, the rate of anxiety, depression, trauma- and stressor-related disorders, and substance use disorders has grown year over year. In 2021, Regence donated $11.5 million to nonprofit community partners to address the mental health issues brought on by COVID-19 in rural communities. Two-year grants were distributed to 23 nonprofits across Idaho, Oregon, Utah and Washington with a focus on:

  • Crisis support: Providing 24/7 support to people in crisis or emotional distress
  • Increase access and improve quality of care: Expanding the capacity of established safety net programs to meet current and emerging needs.
  • Reduce stigma: Supporting work to reduce the stigma and discriminating barriers that prevent individuals from seeking services.

“We want all of our members to live their healthiest lives possible and we’re dedicated to ensuring people in rural communities aren’t left behind,” said Dr. Donna Milavetz, chief medical officer of Regence. “The population in rural areas continues to increase and it’s critically important that they have access to care that makes them feel comfortable and helps them along their health journey.” 

Technology Access

As society shifted to emphasize telehealth medical appointments and remote work and school, high-speed internet increasingly became a necessity rather than a luxury. Better Health Together and Libraries of Stevens County implemented a lending library for laptops and hotspots at their locations, with 350 hotspots in use at the height of the program. Digital navigators who worked in the community were hired to help people utilize technology. While expanded access to mental health care was the primary goal in supporting the program, participants also utilized the technology to access employment, financial assistance and securing food resources.

Mental health care addressing childhood trauma

Regence funding supported a program between National Children’s Alliance and Utah Children’s Justice Center called Bridging the Divide: Improving Access to Critical Mental Health Services for Child Trauma Victims in Rural Utah. The project focused on expanding training opportunities for clinicians and expanding access to children in need of services. More than 123 mental health providers received training and the program provided support to more than 240 children and family caregivers though approximately 1,900 sessions. One of the clinicians participating in the program described the transformation they witnessed in one of their patients: “A trauma-impacted teen redefined himself from ‘bad’ to ‘broken’ to ‘healing’ and then a ‘source of love’.”

Reducing stigma

YouthLine Central Oregon

Idaho Crisis & Suicide Hotline utilized funding from Regence to launch an awareness and anti-stigma campaign to help address the mental health and well-being of people and families in rural communities. They created public awareness ads for radio, social media, and television – and then recruited local artists to develop messaging and art for outdoor murals. Funding helped raise awareness for services and since the campaign, the volume of calls and texts has increased by 57% with more people asking for and receiving support.

Crisis support for Native American youth

Suicide disproportionately impacts Native youth, in some instances 17 times the national average in the United States. With funding from Regence, Lines for Life partnered with the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs on a project to destigmatize mental health discussions, increase help-seeking behavior, and adapt its peer-to-peer support services and educational programming to meet the specific cultural needs of tribal youth. “We are teaching the ways of our ancestors to our young people while challenging ourselves to address generational traumas and talk about mental health,” said Rosanna Jackson, YouthLine Native Supervisor.

Our corporate foundation’s ongoing commitment to mental health access

Regence’s corporate foundation, Cambia Health Foundation has an ongoing commitment to advancing whole-person health which has resulted in $5.2 million invested to expand access to behavioral health care in underserved communities across Idaho, Oregon, Utah and Washington since 2022.

“Many people who live in rural areas travel long distances to receive health care or choose to go without much-needed care,” said Peggy Maguire, president of Cambia Health Foundation. “We invest in innovative solutions and community partnerships to close the gaps in rural communities. We celebrate our grantees and community partners for making whole-person and behavioral health care more accessible for people in underserved communities.”

Please visit to learn more about the Foundation, or visit their Current Funding Opportunities if you’re a non-profit seeking investments.