When the Illinois Health and Hospital Association conducted its Small and Rural Hospitals Annual Meeting in Springfield this summer, worker retention and recruitment was a major theme.
Two of the largest impacts on workforce include stress from the pandemic and a shortage of health care professionals, said Ted Rogalski, Illinois Health and Hospital Association (IHA) Board chairman and administrator of Genesis Medical Center, Aledo.
According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, the U.S. is expected to have a shortage of up to 48,000 primary care physicians by 2034.
And the challenges of recruitment and retention in rural areas is even more challenging.
“We had lost a physician and it took us two and a half years to replace that individual. This was pre-COVID,” Rogalski told FarmWeek. “Now we have another opening because we have a physician that’s going to be retiring. We have been looking for six months now. It’s just really difficult to recruit physicians, especially to our rural communities.”
Trina Casner, president and chief executive officer of Pana Community Hospital and IHA board member, said recruiting for rural health care has been a challenge since she started her role in 2012.
But one aspect that has evolved is residency programs for physicians have expanded training to include training in rural areas.
“So, they can get some experience and exposure to what it’s like practicing medicine in rural areas, which might be attractive to some of them if they know how it can be a little different than practicing in an urban setting,” Casner said.
Those benefits include autonomy, work-life balance, flexibility and culture, she said.
Both hospital chiefs said providing a supportive culture for staff is critical for retention and recruitment, especially when it comes to pandemic burnout.
“We’re really focused on their health and well-being, making sure they have resources that they might need from a behavioral health standpoint, counseling standpoint, just making sure that we stay engaged with them,” Rogalski said.
Casner, who grew up in Pana, said her hospital provides a recruitment bonus to employees, as they’re some of the best recruiters.
“And because if they’re happy here, then they’ll share that with their friends and family,” she said, adding on the retention side, the hospital ensures their benefit package is as good or better than surrounding health care employers.
The state of Illinois also has been supportive with its Illinois National Health Service Corps State Loan Repayment Program.
The program’s goal is to assist communities in recruiting health professionals willing to practice full-time or half-time in federal health professional shortage areas. Program funds are used to repay educational loans of physicians, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, nurse midwives, dentists and psychiatrists who agree to serve full-time or half-time in federally designated HPSAs in Illinois without regard for their ability to pay.
“I’ve recruited for advanced practitioners because of that benefit,” Rogalski said. “It’s a significant benefit that our urban areas cannot offer.”
Illinois has 86 small and rural hospitals throughout the state. As significant economic engines, small and rural hospitals have created approximately 76,350 jobs in Illinois and have a total economic impact of $13.7 billion annually, according to the IHA.
Rogalski said urban health care doesn’t necessarily translate to better quality care.
“A lot of our rural health care providers are high quality and easier to access,” he said. “And if our rural communities utilize the services, they’ll be there for the long term.”
This story was distributed through a cooperative project between Illinois Farm Bureau and the Illinois Press Association. For more food and farming news, visit FarmWeekNow.com.
This article originally appeared on Star Courier: Workforce shortages hitting rural hospitals hardest