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SIU Medicine Says 'Thank You' on National Rural Health Day

November 16, 2017

Written by Whitney Zahnd, Senior Research Development Coordinator, Office of Population Science and Policy, Southern Illinois University School of Medicine

November 16th marks National Rural Health Day, a day to recognize the amazing efforts of healthcare providers, public health professionals, and community organizations who serve the more than 60 million rural Americans and nearly 1.5 million rural Illinoisans.

I have been fortunate enough—both as a farmer’s daughter and a rural health researcher for more than a decade —to see the expertise, compassion, and resourcefulness in which rural health professionals practice. My gratitude is both personal and professional.

More than fifteen years ago, when I was in high school, my dad sustained a leg injury when working with a grain auger and preparing to take his harvest to the local grain elevator. Thankfully, it was only a minor injury, but the emergency room physicians and nurses provided him with the needed assessment to help determine the extent of the injury and the education necessary to enable my family to support his quick recovery. We were all grateful for the expertise and compassion of the physicians and nursing caring for him.

Currently, as a rural health researcher working for Southern Illinois University School of Medicine’s Office of Population Science and Policy, I remain thankful for the skill and empathy of rural health professionals. I have had the good fortune to work with and observe rural health professionals across many sectors in central and southern Illinois --local health departments, healthcare systems, and non-profit organizations.  In our Office’s work, we have collaborated with all of these sectors to address important health challenges like early childhood development, the opioid epidemic, and cancer disparities. Hillsboro Area Hospital is working with our faculty and staff on the “Little Leaps” program to improve infant and toddler brain development. Several health departments and non-profit organizations in southern Illinois are working with our team to help study and address the rural opioid epidemic.

Over the last five years, members of our team have worked with the Healthy Southern Illinois Delta Network, the Center for Rural Health and Social Service Development, and Southern Illinois Healthcare to address cancer disparities in southern Illinois. All of these examples are just a fraction of the partnerships and collaborations that exist in our state to improve the health of our rural communities.

I also want to especially highlight the work of rural local health departments throughout the state.  With the fiscal challenges our state has faced, particular in recent years, these health departments have continued to provide high quality preventive, educational, and clinical services with shoestring budgets, fewer staff members, and reduced hours of operation. Despite these challenges, their passion for the health of their communities remains pervasive and infectious, and I greatly appreciate their collaboration in our shared goals of improving the health and well-being of rural families and individuals.

To the doctors and nurses who treated my dad years ago and to all the rural health professionals throughout our region who are currently working to keep our communities healthy, I want to extend a heartfelt thank you. Happy Rural Health Day!