Durbin Hosts Rural Health Summit To Discuss Workforce Challenges, Federal Assistance

SPRINGFIELD – U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) today convened a Rural Health Summit to discuss workforce challenges with local health leaders and educators. Durbin also discussed the federal government’s role in addressing these challenges, including $1 billion in funding he secured in the American Rescue Plan for the National Health Service Corps and the Nurse Corps to place more providers in underserved communities.

“For more than two years, health care workers have provided care for us in the middle of a pandemic, despite the real risks to themselves,” said Durbin. “It is critical that we provide more funding and resources for them, not only to support our current health care workforce, but to also recruit the next generation of health heroes. I secured an additional $1 billion in funding to put more providers in underserved communities across our state – but there is still so much work to be done. I will continue working to find ways the federal government can help support our providers across Illinois.”

Today’s summit examined three major areas of need for rural health workforces: creating pre-professional pipelines to recruit local students into health careers; expanding capacity of clinical education programs; and enhancing recruitment of clinicians to rural areas.  In Illinois, 1.5 million people live a county that is considered rural. Significant health disparities exist for people living in these rural counties when compared with their urban counterparts, including higher rates of obesity, smoking, child poverty, teen pregnancies, and uninsured and under-insured families.

In Illinois, 30 percent of rural hospitals are in designated “primary care physician shortage areas” and 94 percent are in designated “mental health service shortage areas.”  COVID strained the resources of all health care systems and nurses have borne much of that pressure.  The nursing shortage is expected to get worse in Illinois as more than half of the nearly 195,000 registered nurses in the state are over the age of 55 with more than one-quarter planning to retire in the next five years.  Less than 8,000 new nurses graduate each year.

For Fiscal Year (FY) 2023, Durbin requested additional Congressionally Directed Spending—also known as an earmark— for the expansion of several nursing schools, as well as SIU’s Institute for Rural Health to coordinate services and education across its three campuses. Additionally, Durbin requested increased appropriations for several programs through the Health Resources Service Administration, including National Health Service Corps and Nurse Corps scholarship and loan repayment programs, Area Health Education Centers, and Nurse Faculty Loan Programs. The appropriations bills must be conferenced with the House bills before they are finalized, and Durbin will continue advocating for this funding throughout the duration of the appropriations process.

Durbin was joined at today’s summit by Dr. Sameer Vorha, the Director of the Illinois Department of Public Health; officials from the SIU School of Medicine; Illinois State University Nursing College; the Illinois Critical Access Hospital Network; and several health organizations from Central Illinois, the Metro East, and Southern Illinois.