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Montana receives low marks for senior health

By Kevin Lessard, KCFW Reporter, klessard@kcfw.com
Published On: Jun 19 2013 04:59:21 PM MDT
Updated On: Jun 19 2013 06:53:04 PM MDT
KALISPELL, Mont. -

The 124 page America's Health Rankings Senior Report listed Montana in 36th place for senior health. In the behaviors category, it showed that high percentages of Montana's seniors smoke, drink, and do not visit physicians regularly.

Jennifer Allen, of North Valley Hospital's Embrace Health, told NBC Montana that the state's rural setting is one of the reasons why the state is below average in health.

"Because we're rural, access to health care is a huge issue," Allen explained. "I think until we're able to address access to a full broad continuum of health care and mental health care, we're going to struggle to get ourselves up that ranking."

The report shows another disappointing statistic - the state ranks 49th out of 50 in terms of access to dedicated geriatricians, or doctors who specialize in senior health care. A quick check of the census revealed that Montana has more people over 65 per capita than the national average.

"As we get an older population, including a population with the super-old," continued Allen, "they also need excellent and focused health care, and a geriatrician is one of the best ways to deal with that."

Susan Kudra, of the Agency on Aging in Kalispell, said it's a struggle for Montana doctors, who could be making more money elsewhere.

"We do have a lot of medical care here but let's face it, income in Montana for that type of thing is not as high was it would be in a larger city, so we fight an uphill battle for that reason," said Kudra.

It's a critical battle, Kudra explains, as the number of seniors is expected to increase 230 percent over the next 20 years.