The Rural Evidence Review (RER) – a Centre for Rural Health Research research project – works together with rural patients to provide high-quality and useful evidence for rural health care planning in British Columbia (BC). The project recognizes the importance of rural patient voices in health planning and supports this through research. The RER is jointly funded by the BC SUPPORT Unit and the Rural Coordination Centre of BC.
The RER is built on regular and reciprocal engagement with rural patients across BC. Three Rural Citizen Advisory Committees (RCAC) bring together rural patients to support the project to understand and to action rural health care priorities through research. The Committees were instrumental in conceptualizing the ‘Rural Community Responses to COVID-19’ survey study, a project done in collaboration with the BC Rural Health Network. During Committee meetings in March 2020, members spoke about their communities’ experiences of COVID-19 and identified a gap in available information and knowledge: the experiences of other rural communities across BC during the pandemic.
To address this knowledge gap, the RER in partnership with the BC Rural Health Network (BCRHN) – a network of rural health care advocates across BC – launched an online survey to learn f rom rural BC patients and communities about their experiences of and responses to COVID-19. The survey was shared with Rural Practice Subsidiary Agreement(1) communities through local newspapers and radio stations, community-specific Facebook groups, and local elected council and Chambers of Commerce. We heard f rom 562 patients across 144 communities, between April 17 and June 23, 2020 (i.e., the end of Phase 2 of BC’s Restart Plan). The data were analyzed using quantitative and qualitative methods, led by the RER and in collaboration with BCRHN key stakeholders
The impacts of the pandemic on participating rural communities were physical, emotional, social and financial: A number of participants expressed an increased interest in gardening as a pastime and to grow their own foods. “Yards and gardens are looking beautiful, more people growing food.” Participants expressed fear, stress and frustration at the threat of the virus, and reported feeling lonely and isolated because of public health measures, especially physical and social distancing. These feelings were heightened by the financial consequences of the pandemic protocols and travel to the rural communities by nonresidents who were said to add strain to local supply chains (e.g., food availability at grocery stores) and health care services.