Examining the persistence of disparities over time is an important obligation in terms of rectifying, maintaining, and improving community health and social well-being for all. This study analyzed the individual factors of (a) race/ ethnicity and (b) dual eligibility, as a proxy measure of socioeconomic status, as well as the environmental factor of (c) place of residence, and the organizational factor of (d) Rural Health Clinic (RHC) type on emergency room (ER) utilization of older adult Medicare patients treated by RHCs within the Department of Health and Human Services' (DHHS) Region 4. A prospective, multi-level, longitudinal design was employed to analyze potential health disparities or gaps that may exist among RHC Medicare beneficiary patients (+65) using longitudinal, mixed multilevel modeling in SPSS. The years of investigation were 2010 through 2012. R4 has continually lagged behind other Regions in the Nation in having higher Health Disparities and ER Utilization rates related to Race, Poverty, and Rural Isolation. A key question is: Do these disparities persist? This study's findings support that dual eligible RHC patients utilized ER services at higher rates than non-dual eligible, Medicare only RHC patients at: 77%, 80%, and 66%, in 2010, 2011, and 2012, respectively; and above the White reference group, Black RHC Medicare patients utilized ER services at higher rates of: 18%, 20%, and 34%, in 2010, 2011, and 2012, respectively. These findings support that dual Medicare and Medicaid eligibility, as a proxy measure of socioeconomic status, and race continue to influence higher rates of ER utilization in Region 4. In terms of health and utilization disparities, strikingly and persistently, as recent as 2012, Black, dual eligible RHC Medicare beneficiary patients age 65 and over are twice as likely to utilize ER services for health care than their more advantaged counterparts. Health care leaders and policymakers are seeking evidence-based performance measures as tools for detecting gaps in health care and using those subsequent findings as leverage to implement policy change for the purpose of increasing health care delivery performance system-wide while lowering health disparities across various patient populations. Toward that goal, communicating and disseminating the findings of this study contributes to the body of knowledge and enables policy leaders to better make decisions based on empirical evidence in order to strengthen the health care delivery system for older adults in diverse rural contexts. From a health and public affairs policy perspective, crafting in tandem targeted, top-down, population health and bottom-up, community interventions to curb poor health outcomes and high health care utilization would be in the public interest at-large within this region of the Southeastern United States.


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Graduation Date





Wan, Thomas T. H.


Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


College of Health and Public Affairs

Degree Program

Public Affairs; Governance and Policy Research









Release Date

August 2017

Length of Campus-only Access

1 year

Access Status

Doctoral Dissertation (Open Access)