As President of the National Grange, Betsy Huber has spent her decades-long career focused on improving all aspects of life for people in rural communities. This work has increasingly demanded an emphasis on advocating for accessible and high-quality rural healthcare.
Betsy, who also serves as an advisory council member for the Alliance for Women’s Health & Prevention (AWHP), sat down with us to share more about The Grange, her work, and her commitment to women’s preventive health, especially as it impacts those living in rural communities.
AWHP: Please tell us a little bit about yourself and your background. How did you come to lead the National Grange?
BH: I was born and raised on a dairy farm in Southeastern Pennsylvania – I joined The Grange as a child, as my family was a part of the organization for generations. I then worked for my State Representative in his District office for ten years, which gave me a good background in legislation and working with different state governments. Eventually, I worked my way up through The Grange. In 2002, I was elected as State President of The Grange in Pennsylvania. After that, I took a few years off and tried retirement, but then in 2015, I was elected as the President of the National Grange, and as the first woman to ever hold the position! I had no idea going into the convention that I was even a candidate because they’re secret elections.
AWHP: Why are you passionate about women’s preventive health?
BH: Of course, as a woman I have an interest in women’s preventive health. I’ve also had a lot of family members who have had health issues and looking at The Grange, over 50% of our members are women. Rural health has continued to become a bigger issue – especially the disparities present between those living in urban and rural areas. That’s why I’m happy to be a part of the Alliance for Women’s Health and Prevention.
AWHP: What would you say are the primary areas of concern impacting access to healthcare for women in rural America?
BH: I think there is a lot more focus on rural health recently. COVID-19 may have had something to do with this, but honestly, I think the focus may have started before the pandemic. In rural areas, the distances to healthcare treatment centers are significant, and it is more difficult to find a doctor, particularly a specialist who is within a reasonable travel distance. For many, it takes an entire day just to have a doctor’s appointment. There is also the consideration of transportation – in rural areas there usually is no public transportation, so you must have access to a car. More and more rural hospitals are in danger of closing, and that is a real concern. At The Grange, we believe where you live shouldn’t impact your ability to receive quality healthcare.
AWHP: Can you talk a bit about the work The Grange is doing to ensure Americans living in rural communities have access to healthcare?
BH: Statistics show people living in rural areas are older and sicker than those in urban areas. The Grange is an agricultural organization at its core, but more and more of our time is spent on rural health issues. For example, I was on a panel in a webinar hosted by The Hill to advocate for getting new Alzheimer’s treatments covered by Medicare. We’re also doing a lot of work around mental health, which has come to the forefront since the start of the pandemic. We’re partnering with the organization Rural Minds which provides mental health information and resources for those living in rural America. Suicide rates are much higher in rural areas compared to those in urban areas, so it’s a very pressing issue. Our healthcare efforts also encourage people to get their vaccines: COVID-19, flu, RSV, shingles, pneumonia, and more.
AWHP: Speaking of vaccines, can you tell us more about The Grange’s recent testimonies to the CDC and FDA on ensuring access to RSV vaccines and updated COVID-19 vaccines?
BH: Our legislative director, Burton Eller, gave testimony to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to share our support for ensuring that older Americans most vulnerable to RSV have access to the newly FDA-approved vaccines before the start of flu season. This included asking for clear guidance for the use of these vaccines and ensuring this guidance is published without delay. Burton also gave testimony on behalf of The Grange to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in June, urging the committee to offer the COVID-19 vaccine on an annual basis, similar to the flu shot. This would allow rural citizens to make the most of their annual provider visits and plan ahead, boosting vaccination rates and protecting people’s health.