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Advocating for Healthcare Improvements in Rural Illinois

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The Illinois Rural Health Association would like the state to do more to encourage doctors to serve rural areas.

“25% of the population is rural but less than 10% of the physicians practice in rural areas,” said Margaret Vaughn, Executive Director of the IRHA.

She said the number of specialists working in rural areas is even lower.

Vaughn said the Rural Medical Education Program at the University of Illinois College of Medicine at Rockford has helped. She said the program has graduated more than 260 students since 1993 and most of them have gone on to serve in rural communities.

But Vaughn felt the numbers could be higher if the state legislature provided more money for the program.  She also said student loans should be forgiven for doctors willing to practice in underserved parts of the state.

Vaughn said rural areas face numerous obstacles in trying to attract physicians. They include:

  • A higher percentage of uninsured residents;
  • Higher poverty rates;
  • People must travel greater distances to see a doctor.

“When you put all those things together it doesn’t bode well for access to healthcare in rural areas,” Vaughn said.
She said rural health clinics and telemedicine are both proving to be part of the solution. She also said many doctors who practice in rural areas want to be there and take pride in their communities.

“They wouldn’t be there unless they were very dedicated,” Vaughn said.

She also suggested the state be more flexible with rural ambulance services, which she said are over-regulated.

Rich is TSPR's News Director.