Labor shortages hit rural hospitals hardest

When the Illinois Health and Hospital Association held its annual meeting of small rural hospitals in Springfield this summer, worker retention and recruitment was a major theme.

Two of the biggest impacts on the workforce are the stress of the pandemic and the shortage of healthcare professionals, said Ted Rogalski, chairman of the board of the Illinois Health and Hospital Association (IHA). and Trustee of Genesis Medical Center, Aledo.

According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, the United States is expected to be short of 48,000 primary care physicians by 2034.

And the challenges of recruitment and retention in rural areas are even more difficult.

“We had lost a doctor and it took us two and a half years to replace him. This was before COVID,” Rogalski told FarmWeek. “Now we have another opening because we have a doctor who is going to retire. We have been looking for six months. It’s really difficult to recruit doctors, especially in our rural communities.

Trina Casner, president and CEO of Pana Community Hospital and IHA board member, said recruiting for rural healthcare has been a challenge since she started. his role in 2012.

But one aspect that has evolved is that 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 to practice medicine in rural areas, which might be appealing to some of them if they know what a little different from urban practice,” Casner said.

These benefits include autonomy, work-life balance, flexibility and culture, she said.

The two hospital chiefs said providing a culture of support for staff was essential 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 the resources they might need from a behavioral health standpoint, from a counseling standpoint, just making sure that that we stay engaged with them,” Rogalski said.

Casner, who grew up in Pana, said his hospital offers a recruiting bonus to employees because they are some of the best recruiters.

“And because if they’re happy here, they’ll share it with their friends and family,” she said, adding that on the retention side, the hospital makes sure their benefits package is as good or better than surrounding healthcare employers.

The State of Illinois also provided support for its Illinois National Health Service Corps Loan Repayment Program.

The goal of the program is to help communities recruit health professionals willing to practice full or part time in federal health professional shortage areas. Program funds are used to repay education loans for physicians, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, nurse midwives, dentists, and psychiatrists who agree to serve full-time or part-time in HPSAs designated by the federal government in Illinois, regardless of their ability to pay.

“I recruited advanced practitioners because of that advantage,” Rogalski said. “That’s a huge advantage that our urban areas can’t offer.

Illinois has 86 small rural hospitals throughout the state. As significant economic drivers, small rural hospitals have created approximately 76,350 jobs in Illinois and have a total economic impact of $13.7 billion per year, according to the IHA.

Rogalski said urban health care doesn’t necessarily translate to better quality care.

“Many of our rural healthcare providers are high quality and easier to access,” he said. “And if our rural communities use the services, they will be there for the long term.

This story was distributed as a cooperative project between the Illinois Farm Bureau and the Illinois Press Association. For more food and agriculture news, visit

Michael A. Bynum