Rural Illinois doesn’t have enough health workers, and pandemic has made matters worse


SPRINGFIELD – Almost all counties in Illinois do not have enough primary care, mental health and dental providers, according to a new report from the Rural Health Summit.

The problem is most acute in rural counties across the state, including southern Illinois.

The report, produced by a consortium of healthcare professionals, finds that the coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated and highlighted the depth of the rural healthcare worker shortage in Illinois.

“It showed a lot of people that there were a lot of issues that had been under the surface for a long time and they appeared on the surface, and it kind of caused a crisis,” Dr Jim Daniels said. , family doctor and preventive medicine. Southern Illinois University School of Medicine physician.

Speaking on Thursday during a webinar on the report’s findingsDaniels said there was a lag with the pipelines that medical and government institutions have developed to attract more doctors to rural areas.

“We’ve spent a lot of time figuring out how we’re going to get someone to rural health, but maybe not a lot of time in rural areas talking to people who say, ‘What’s holding people back. the low ? ” “, did he declare. “If you say, ‘We’re going to pay your medical bills,’ and in about four or five years you haven’t connected with the community anymore, [so] you leave.”

One way to combat this, according to the report, is to provide opportunities and incentives for people in rural communities who wish to enter the field of health care.

Part of that is cultivating the right kind of relationship with rural areas when recruiting for medical school, said Dr Hana Hinkle, acting director of the National Center for Rural Health Professions.

“We are evaluating [our students] about how they really are rural in their education, ”she said. “No matter where they go to residency, they end up returning to practice in a rural community similar to the one they come from.

It also helps motivate young people to enter the healthcare profession, Hinkle said. This includes opportunities for students – before graduating from high school – to interact with hospitals, public health departments or other parts of the rural health care industry, a- she declared.

Hinkle, who is also a part of the University of Illinois at Rockford College of Medicine, explained that 30% of his new medical students had this type of exposure before enrolling.

“It got them interested and excited and just showed that they could be successful and that they didn’t have to go to Chicago or St. Louis,” she said. “They can get through their training and go back and make a huge difference in communities that need it most, such as where they come from.

The report also highlights collaboration between public health departments and health service providers, such as hospitals, as another key to revitalizing rural health care.

To Amy Fox, administrator of the Tazewell County Public Health Department, which includes everything from insurance providers to community support services like churches and pantries.

“All the things that support a family and a healthy life need to be put on the table,” she said. “Public health alone tends to be a good organizer of this. “

Fox stressed that these connections must be in place before a crisis, like COVID, hits an area.

A broad view of health and wellness can also inspire more people to consider careers that support community health, said Leticia Boughton Price, president of the Illinois Community Health Workers Association.

“A lot of times people when they hear ‘health’ think the doctor, nurse and some people have something against 12 years of education,” she said. “This broader definition of health and wellness will encompass different social determinants of health, such as safety and education.

Many people are unaware of the value of community health workers and how they fit into the healthcare landscape, Price said.

While the health summit report offers specific recommendations, Price said lawmakers and other policymakers need to listen to rural communities when they propose solutions.

“A lot of times they want to come in and just take over,” she said. “When this remedy doesn’t work for the community, then they say, ‘They didn’t want it.’ And that’s because that’s not it [the rural community] wanted in the first place.

Eric Schmid covers Metro East for St. Louis Public Radio as part of the Journalism Fellowship Program: Report for America, an initiative of the GroundTruth project.

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