U.S. Senator Dick Durbin recently addressed the pressing issue of healthcare workforce shortages and staffing crises in rural Illinois, unveiling his comprehensive plan, the "Roadmap to Grow Illinois' Rural Health Workforce." The senator held a news conference alongside Illinois health care leaders, emphasizing the urgent need to address these challenges and introducing strategic partnerships and new funding initiatives to strengthen healthcare resources in rural areas.
Recognizing the critical role of rural hospitals and clinics in maintaining community health, the COVID-19 pandemic revealed a different threat—an alarming shortage of healthcare professionals. After a year of extensive travel across the state, Senator Durbin gained valuable insights into the difficulties faced, including recruiting physicians, inadequate EMT numbers, and a scarcity of nursing faculty.
The Roadmap aims to tackle the root causes of these shortages through various approaches. It involves engaging middle and high schools to attract young individuals to health careers, expanding education programs, and creating incentives for rural recruitment. By uniting hospitals, community health centers, medical and nursing schools, community colleges, dentists, physicians, and nurses, the Roadmap seeks to effect lasting change.
To support the outlined goals, Senator Durbin announced two federal earmarks for Fiscal Year 2023. Illinois State University will receive $2 million to expand its nursing school, while Southern Illinois University's School of Medicine will be granted $1 million to establish a Rural Health Institute.
Healthcare shortages in rural Illinois remain a critical concern. Urban areas have 90 doctors per 100,000 residents, whereas rural counties only have 45 doctors per 100,000 residents. Even prior to the pandemic, Illinois faced a shortfall of 15,000 nurses. Nationally, the situation is equally dire, with 100,000 nurses leaving the field during the pandemic and an additional 800,000 planning retirement soon.
Senator Durbin's ongoing efforts to address these challenges include provisions in the American Rescue Plan that invest $1 billion into the National Health Service Corps (NHSC), providing scholarships and loan repayment for healthcare professionals committed to serving areas in need. Additionally, he is working on legislation to increase federal Medicare funding for residency slots to train more doctors and close the pay gap between nurses and nursing faculty.
The Roadmap to Grow Illinois' Rural Health Workforce has garnered support from 11 leading health organizations in Illinois, including the Illinois Health & Hospital Association, the American Nursing Association—Illinois, and the Illinois State Medical Society. Through these collaborative efforts, Senator Durbin aims to secure a brighter future for healthcare in rural Illinois, ensuring that communities have access to the quality medical services they deserve.