How a law signed in May will tackle health care shortages in rural Illinois counties

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Sen. Doris Turner, D-Springfield, speaks at the Springfield Clinic on Thursday. [Thomas J. Turney/The State Journal-Register]

A bill signed into law last month may provide a much-needed reprieve for Illinois’ rural counties. The law, spearheaded by Sen. Doris Turner, D-Springfield, will provide financial relief to physician’s assistants and advance practice nurses who work in rural areas around the state. 

Rural areas, defined as communities and locations that aren’t part of a city, face a challenge in health care access. 

While large urban counties have 87.1 primary care physicians per 100,000 people, Illinois’ 62 rural counties have 45.5 primary care physicians, according to a 2018 report from the Illinois Rural Health Summit, a project of the Southern Illinois University School of Medicine. 

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"The fact is that if you look at health care statistics, we have some third world health care statistics in this country," said Charles James, Illinois Rural Health Association president.  

Charles James, president of the Illinois Rural Health Association, speaks Thursday at Springfield Clinic. [Thomas J. Turney/The State Journal-Register]

The report also suggests that 30.3% of small and rural hospitals exist in "shortage areas," where there aren’t enough doctors for the number of people living there. It’s even worse for mental health care. About 93.7% of small and rural hospitals are in mental health service shortage areas. 

"Some counties have one ambulance," said Margaret Vaughn, the executive director of the IHRA. "Some have one dentist." 

The new law will, ideally, help alleviate these shortages. It expands the eligibility for student loan repayment assistants to include advance practice nurses and physician’s assistants, where the program was previously only available to doctors. 

It also expands the places that aid recipients can work to include privately-owned rural health clinics and hospitals, as long as they accept Medicare and Medicaid. This is important to increase access, since some in rural counties rely on these government assistance programs. 

"Providers do not want to take Medicare, they don’t want to take Medicaid because of the slow pay," said Turner.   

For her work on the bill, the IHRA recognized Turner with an award on Tuesday. 

The measure passed the General Assembly with unanimous bipartisan support in both chambers and has been in effect since the governor signed it in May. 

The issue of rural health care access is complex and intersects with other issues facing rural communities. 

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His group conducted a survey of one rural community in Missouri and found the number of people with internet access was lower than he expected. 

"Fifty percent of the patients in that county had access to a smart phone or computer in their home," said James. "Much of that 50% doesn’t have a car or a way to pay for gas to jump in their car and drive to their provider." 

This is particularly important as telehealth and virtual medical services become more common. 

Contact Andrew Adams: aadams1@gannett.com; (312)-291-1417; twitter.com/drewjayadams.

via The State Journal-Register

June 10, 2022 at 07:10AM

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