Study: Rural areas may be more hazardous than urban

HOUGHTON – Rural areas are often prized for being safer than the big city. But a recent study suggests that might not be the case.

The most rural counties in America carry a 20 percent greater risk of dying from an accident or injury than the nation’s larger cities, according to a study published Tuesday in the Annals of Emergency Medicine.

The study looked at injury-related deaths across the country from 1999 to 2006, excluding those from the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. While homicides are more common in cities than rural areas, they’re also rarer overall – only 17 per 100,000 people, versus 37.5 for unintentional deaths.

Motor-vehicle deaths, the leading type of accidental death, occurred in rural areas at rates more than twice those of cities. The rate of deaths by firearm was the same, but not the distribution: they were more common in rural areas for children up to 14 and adults over 45.

In the Baraga-, Gogebic-, Houghton-, Keweenaw- and Ontonagon-county area, the rate of deaths by unintentional injury is about 43 per 100,000 residents from 2006 to 2010, said Ray Sharp, community planning and preparedness manager for the Western Upper Peninsula Health Department.

Sharp said the higher rates of automobile deaths in rural areas could be because rural people are more likely to have longer trips and less likely to use mass transit. Another factor in numbers, he said, is the greater distance from advanced trauma centers.

“You can imagine in our area that that could be the case, that if someone were injured in Ewen, they would have a pretty long ambulance ride whether they were going to Marquette, or Ironwood, or Hancock,” he said. “It could be a long time before they got advanced care.”

Sharp said they will use data from the state to target prevention efforts. For instance, over the years they have observed a higher drinking-vehicle crash rate in the five-county area compared to the rest of Michigan.

“I think that points out the need for strong substance-abuse prevention messages,” he said.

Dave Olsson, director of strategic marketing and growth at Aspirus Keweenaw Hospital, said one of the ways the hospital prepares for emergency services is to look back at cases through history.

“While we don’t rest all of our decisions on any given year, we can certainly see a trend for the amount of emergency services we have, and the services we need to provide for people,” he said. “With that information, we are very equipped to meet the emergency needs of the community.”

Olsson said only 1 percent of emergency cases require patients to be transferred out of the area.

“When the situation calls for it, patients can be airlifted or quickly moved from our location to the care that they need,” he said.