Federal government reauthorizes State Office of Rural Health

WABASHA, Minn. (KTTC) – The federal government is looking to invest in rural heathcare systems. The State Offices of Rural Health Reauthorization Act of 2022 reauthorizing a program that supports health facilities in rural areas across the country.

The State Offices of Rural Health is a program that has been in place for a while, and the signing of the 2022 bill reauthorizes it for the next five years.

One of the authors on the bill is Minnesota Senator Tina Smith.

“No matter where you live or what zip code you’re in, you should have access to good high-quality healthcare that you can afford,” she said.

The law funds and organizes a state office of rural health that works with rural health care professional to help solve challenges they face.

“Those needs are unique. They don’t see the same kinds of challenges in big cities or suburban communities,” Senator Smith said.

Gunderson-St. Elizabeth’s in Wabasha sees hundreds of patients within a 30-mile radius around its location.

“The care that we’re able to offer here in Wabasha handles probably 75-80 percent of the care that is needed by the general public and then we’re able to refer our patients on to a facility such as Gunderson-La Crosse or Rochester,” Gunderson-St. Elizabeth’s administrator Jim Root said.

Senator Smith and Gunderson-St. Elizabeth’s leaders agree that rural hospital patients and staff face unique challenges.

“Sometimes they have to drive long distances, or they have to go kind of the extra mile literally the get access to the provider that they need,” Senator Smith said.

“Provider challenges on recruiting physicians, nurse practitioners, nurse into an organization. I would say access to care would be the biggest challenge,” Root said.

Many of the patients are Gunderson-St. Elizabeth’s are senior who depend on government healthcare programs.

“Over 70 percent of the people that we serve here at Gunderson-St. Elizabeth are served by a Medicare or Medicaid population and those are the government programs that are available in our rural setting,” Root said.

Gunderson-St. Elizabeth’s leaders say they’d like to see a more federal investment into wellness for rural healthcare systems.

“That’s where healthcare needs to go is really improving the health and well-being, how we can keep people well and then care for them when they need it through sick care,” Root said.

This year, Gunderson-St. Elizabeth’s is celebrating 125 years serving its community. The healthcare system is currently working on raising money for a new rehab facility and drive-up pharmacy. It’s raised $4 million of its $7 million goal.


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