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Governor Pritzker Signs Legislation Supporting Rural Healthcare Expansion, Coordination

Press Release - Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Chicago- Governor JB Pritzker today signed two bills designed to provide better access to healthcare for rural Illinoisans. SB3017 amends the Loan Repayment Assistance for Physicians Act to address the shortage of healthcare providers, particularly for obstetrical services, in rural committees. SB1435 amends hospital licensing procedures to clear the way for health center mergers and increased healthcare coordination in rural districts.

"From our telehealth expansions to our Healthcare Transformation Collaboratives, we're shaping Illinois into a leader in tackling systemic inequities in our rural healthcare systems," said Governor JB Pritzker. "I want to thank Senator Turner and Representatives Yednock and Rezin for bringing us closer to a world where all Illinoisans have the easy and affordable healthcare access they deserve." 

The amended Loan Repayment Assistance Act expands the definition of a "designated shortage area" to include any Medicaid-accepting health provider and expands the eligibility for loan repayment to more physicians, advanced practice registered nurses, and physicians' assistants. These expansions are targeted towards attracting more qualified health care professionals to work in rural areas lacking adequate access to care.

SB1425 allows any hospital in a county of fewer than 125,000 inhabitants to apply to the Illinois Department of Public Health to conduct operations from multiple locations within contiguous counties under one license. As a result of the bill, St. Margaret's Health- Spring Valley will have a path to merge with St. Margaret's Health- Peru. This will increase healthcare coordination across rural counties and improve quality of care for patients in these systems.

According to a University of Minnesota Rural Health Research Center study, rural populations are typically older and have more health needs than those living in urban areas despite facing transportation and coverage shortages. These disparities are particularly acute for patients using Medicare. Rural residents need accessible health care options without the long delays and financial burden of extended travel.

Gov. JB Pritzker signed legislation in 2021 that established the Healthcare Transformation Collaboratives program, which encourages healthcare providers to partner together to develop innovative solutions for meeting healthcare needs in their communities and closing gaps that exist in healthcare delivery across the state. In July, the administration announced roughly $94 million in funding to eight innovative collaborations.

SB3107 and SB1435 target these underserved areas to improve healthcare for rural Illinoisans. Both bills are effective immediately.

"As chair of the Governor's Rural Affairs Council (GRAC), we know that our rural communities face unique challenges when it comes to obtaining healthcare services," said Lt. Governor Juliana Stratton. "That is why Illinois is laser focused on providing resources and creating policy that improves equity and access in every region of the state. These bills create the pathway to address shortages in the healthcare field and increase coordination to fill the gaps impacting rural communities."

"The merger between St. Margaret's Health and Illinois Valley Community Hospital will provide the residents of the Illinois Valley community with an opportunity for better and more coordinated healthcare," said Deputy Minority Leader Sue Rezin (R-Morris). "This partnership will help create a more structurally and financially secured healthcare network within the region that will be better positioned to offer more healthcare options and enhanced services."
"We must work to improve access to quality care in rural Illinois," said State Senator Doris Turner (D-Springfield). "Passing this law means that people across the state will have increased access to high quality health care."

"By bolstering support for obstetrical services in rural communities and streamlining rural hospital operations and administration, we are making health care more accessible for Illinois residents in rural areas of the state," said State Rep. Lance Yednock (D-Ottawa). "These bills are an essential step in providing accessible, high quality health care for rural Illinoisans, and I will continue to support the health care systems of rural communities."

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