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26 June, 2008 - Rural Health Care Needs our Help

Earlier this week I spoke at the Conference of Small and Rural Hospitals sponsored by the Illinois Hospital Association in Springfield, Illinois. As I visited with hospital administrators, doctors on staff, and members of Boards of Directors of the smaller, rural hospitals, I was again reminded of the challenges that those hospitals have faced for the past two decades, and they don’t seem to be diminishing; indeed, they seem to be getting larger.

One report summed it up this way. “Rural hospitals provide essential healthcare services to nearly 54-million people across the nation, including 9-million Medicare beneficiaries. Contributing to Medicare payment challenges is a host of significant pressures and they are largely beyond the control of the hospitals. A sustained workforce shortage, difficulty in getting doctors and nurses to move to rural communities, and rising healthcare liability premiums are continuing to drive costs higher. In addition, access to capital is poor, as the average age of hospital facilities in rural communities and the demand for expensive new information systems climb.”

Those are challenges we have been talking about for a long time and I keep hoping for answers and solutions. Perhaps local communities with hospitals could establish locally- funded programs that would provide scholarships for students who want to become doctors. The scholarship recipients would agree that when they receive their medical degree they would come back to practice in their home town; perhaps the same could be done for aspiring nurses. The medical profession is not an easy life and I can understand the desire to work in a well-equipped big city hospital where the financial compensation is greater. But rural communities have a great deal to offer in the way of lifestyle, culture and raising children and these benefits need to be sold to prospective healthcare providers.

Rural citizens must also realize that, in addition to the healthcare services provided by a hometown hospital, it plays a major role in providing employment and economic benefit to the community and deserves local financial support.

I did learn of some innovative ideas from hospital people at the Springfield meeting and I will share them with you in future columns. I would also like to hear from you if you have hospital support programs that work in your community. I doubt there will be much help from Federal or State governments beyond the current Critical Access Hospital funding program so once again it comes down to what seems to work best in rural America...we do it ourselves!

It is critical that we wok together to improve the delivery of quality healthcare in rural America.

My thoughts on Samuelson Sez.


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