Legislation aims to entice medical providers to rural areas | General – FarmWeekNow.com


Two federal lawmakers from Illinois sponsored legislation recently to incentivize health care professionals to practice in rural areas.

The Rural America Health Corps Act, introduced by U.S. Sens. Dick Durbin, D-Springfield, and Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., and Rep. Nikki Budzinski D-Springfield, would establish a Rural America Health Corps to test whether an increased loan repayment and longer service commitment would enhance recruitment and retention of doctors, nurses, dentists and behavioral health providers in rural areas. The new program would fall under the Health Resources and Services Administration’s (HRSA) National Health Service Corps (NHSC).

The legislation would authorize a Rural Provider Loan Repayment Demonstration Program, in which participants would agree to serve full-time for five years in a health provider shortage area (HPSA) that also is rural. Participants would be eligible for $200,000 in loan repayments.

“Patients across rural Illinois face challenges accessing the health care they need because of serious workforce shortages — with too few medical providers and long distances between them,” Durbin said.

Nearly 100 million Americans live in communities with too few doctors, and half the country lives in a mental health care desert, according to a press release from Durbin’s office. It is estimated the United States needs 450,000 nurses over the next two years, and is projected to face a shortage of 120,000 physicians over the next decade. One of the biggest barriers is the high cost of pursuing graduate education for health care providers, which can leave new doctors with an average debt of more than $200,000.

“A shortage of health care professionals in rural communities continues to impact folks in central and southern Illinois,” Budzinski said. “The Rural America Health Corps Act would help our communities recruit and retain essential health care providers.”

The NHSC addresses workforce shortages and health disparities by enticing promising students from diverse backgrounds into health careers in underserved communities by providing scholarship and loan repayment funding in exchange for a service commitment in an urban or rural area. Nationwide, more than 21 million patients were delivered care by NHSC providers. Across Illinois, more than 935 clinicians with NHSC serve in community health centers and hospitals.

The American Hospital Association, in a letter to senators, expressed support for the legislation, noting long-building structural changes within the health care workforce, combined with the impact of the pandemic, resulted in a national staffing emergency.

“In 2017, the majority of our nursing workforce was close to retirement, with more than half aged 50 and older, and almost 30% aged 60 and older,” the letter stated. “Hospitals faced similar demographic trends for physicians, with data from the Association of American Medical Colleges indicating that one-third of practicing physicians will reach retirement age over the next decade.

“The result of these mounting pressures on the health care workforce has created a historic workforce crisis complete with real-time short-term staffing shortages and a daunting long-range picture of an unfulfilled talent pipeline.”Last month, the Department of Health and Human Services data showed that 601 hospitals (or 16.3% of reporting hospitals) anticipated a critical staffing shortage. In addition, projections from the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimate U.S. health care organizations will have to fill more than 203,000 open nursing positions every year until 2031.

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April 7, 2023 at 07:18AM

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