Durbin Visits Genesis Medical Center To Address Health Care Workforce Shortages In Rural Illinois

ALEDO – U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) today held a news conference with Illinois health care leaders to highlight his “Roadmap to Grow Illinois’ Rural Health Workforce.”  The partnership with hospitals, community health centers, medical and nursing schools, community colleges, dentists, physicians, and nurses will organize efforts and provide new funding to address health care workforce shortages and staffing crises in rural Illinois. The full Roadmap report can be viewed here. 

“For the past year, I have traveled extensively across Illinois, listening to the voices of rural communities and understanding their unique needs,” said Durbin. “This invaluable experience has shaped my Rural Roadmap, which tackles the root causes behind health care disparities. By investing in education, expanding training programs, and fostering sustainable solutions, we can ensure that rural communities receive the quality care they deserve.”

“The nationwide health care worker shortage hits rural hospitals hard,” said Ted Rogalski, Administrator of Genesis Medical Center, Aledo and DeWitt. “At our Aledo hospital, the number one challenge is staffing. We have been working several years to recruit a new physician, nurse staffing is a significant challenge, and there is a very acute need for EMS providers across our health system.  Senator Durbin's road map will bring needed financial incentives and create more clinical education and training to strengthen the pipeline of health care professionals coming to rural Illinois. This is crucial to maintaining quality health care for our rural residents.”

“UIC supports Senator Durbin's Roadmap to Grow Illinois' Rural Health Workforce, addressing challenges in rural communities,” said Dr. Kathleen Sparbel PhD, FNP-BC, Clinical Associate Professor, Campus Director, UIC College of Nursing Quad Cities. “Our campuses outside Chicago offer convenient access to nursing education, including DNP, MS, and BSN programs in Urbana and Springfield, and graduate nursing education in Rockford, Peoria, and Quad Cities. We collaborate with community colleges statewide, allowing students to earn an associate degree in nursing while enrolling in our online BSN-completion program. Our Teaching/Learning certificate prepares nurses to become faculty, and our Rural Health Education Certificate focuses on the health of rural populations. Through grants, we support initiatives for a diverse nursing workforce and a mobile health clinic for underserved communities in central and southern Illinois.”

“The National Center for Rural Health Professions and the University of Illinois College of Medicine and the Rural Training Track Collaborative is pleased be a partner with Senator Durbin and his team on the important work, innovations and strategies highlighted in the Roadmap,” said Hana Hinkle, PhD, MPH, Assistant Dean for Rural Health Professions and Director of the National Center for Rural Health Professions, UIC School of Medicine Rockford. “There is often much discussion about the challenges that exist in rural areas all across the country when it comes to healthcare delivery, but this Roadmap offers an important collective strategy of opportunities to solve these challenges. The National Center has been a pioneer in this work with the inception of our nationally and internationally recognized Illinois rural medical education program since the early 1990’s, and we have worked tirelessly to expand on that work to address the needs of rural communities through education, translational research, and policy.”

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.   

Durbin is also working on legislation to increase federal Medicare funding for residency slots to train more doctors at institutions like Southern Illinois University. Another Durbin measure would increase the number of nursing faculty by having the federal government close the pay gap between nurses and nurses in faculty positions. In 2021, 92,000 qualified applicants were rejected from nursing programs due to enrollment constraints. Closing the pay gap would help increase the number of nurse faculty to train future nurses. And in February, Durbin and Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) introduced the SIREN Reauthorization Act, which Durbin first passed into law in 2018, to extend funding for rural fire and EMS agencies to support training and recruitment of EMS professionals.  

This Roadmap is endorsed by 11 of the leading health organizations in Illinois: Illinois Health & Hospital Association; Illinois Primary Health Care Association; American Nursing Association—Illinois; Illinois Critical Access Hospital Network; Illinois Association of Colleges of Nursing; Illinois State Medical Society; Illinois State Dental Society; Southern Illinois University School of Medicine; National Center for Rural Health Professions, University of Illinois College of Medicine Rockford; Illinois Community College Trustees Association; Deans and Directors of Illinois Community Colleges Nursing Programs.