Durbin Discusses Rural Health Workforce Development at Southern Illinois Healthcare

CARBONDALE – U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) today participated in a roundtable discussion with leaders from Southern Illinois Healthcare, Shawnee Health, the nursing program at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, and the Egyptian Health Department to discuss his “Roadmap to Grow Illinois’ Rural Health Workforce”. This partnership organized by Durbin with hospitals, community health centers, medical and nursing schools, community colleges, dentists, physicians, and nurses will coordinate efforts and provide new funding to address health care workforce shortages and staffing crises in rural Illinois. The Roadmap focuses on: (1) pipelines to recruit middle/high-school students into health careers; (2) expanding capacity of clinical education programs; and (3) enhancing recruitment to rural areas.

“By forging partnerships between local schools and nearby hospitals and clinics, we can bridge the gap in health care access and tackle the shortages of health care workers that afflict our rural communities,” said Durbin. “Together, we’ll ensure that every single Illinoisan, no matter where they live, can access the quality health care they deserve.”

Durbin also discussed the $1.2 million in federal funding recently awarded to the Egyptian Health Department to deliver enhanced mental health services to students and teachers in Gallatin County. This funding was provided by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) Project AWARE grant program, which Durbin has helped double the funding level over the past four years up to $140 million, resulting in today’s award.

“Investing in the mental well-being of our students and teachers is an investment in our nation’s future,” said Durbin. “By providing funding for Egyptian Health Department to deliver these vital mental health services, we will be addressing the emotional scars facing our students, and setting them on a path for success.”

Prior to COVID, Illinois was already facing a shortfall of 15,000 nurses. Nationally, a recent survey reported that 100,000 nurses left the field during the pandemic, and another 800,000 plan to retire soon. This is an especially dire problem in rural areas, where patients have to drive longer distances—often causing patients to put-off seeing someone for health conditions that can grow much worse without early medical intervention.

Durbin authored a provision in the American Rescue Plan to invest $1 billion into the National Health Service Corps (NHSC), which funds scholarships and loan repayment for new doctors, nurses, dentists, and behavioral health clinicians who commit to serve in rural and urban areas of need. Medical professionals can graduate with student debt of more than $200,000, which can discourage them from pursuing these careers in the first place, or lead to them choosing to practice in high-paying specialties or in more affluent and urban areas. The NHSC program helps build the pipeline of new health providers and surge them to shortage areas. Today, Illinois has nearly 1,000 health professionals serving under the NHSC program. 

In March, Durbin and Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) introduced the Restoring America’s Health Care Workforce and Readiness Act, which will reauthorize and increase funding for NHSC. Additionally, Durbin and U.S. Senator Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) introduced the Rural America Health Corps Act to test a new NHSC pilot, in which clinicians going to rural areas would receive $200,000 of loan repayment with a five-year commitment, rather than the traditional $50,000 of loan repayment for two years.