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Report: COVID-19 Widens Disparities in Rural Illinois, Recommends Rural Health Improvements

Illinois Rural Health Summit Organizers Convened Discussion Forums, Authored Report

March 30, 2021 (Springfield, IL) - A new report released by Southern Illinois University (SIU) Medicine Department of Population Science and Policy, SIU Paul Simon Public Policy Institute, the University of Illinois Chicago School of Public Health, and the SIU Medicine Center for Rural Health and Social Service Development found that the pandemic has negatively impacted preexisting health disparities in rural Illinois as many rural communities share similar issues to the poorest metropolitan communities. Read the report [LINK] and the one-page summary. (LINK)

The report, which draws on information shared in 11 discussion forums consisting of rural health stakeholders, community leaders, legislators, physicians and experts from 55 different organizations, builds on the work of the 2018 Rural Health Summit. That Summit began a process of drafting policy blueprints to improve the health of rural communities across Illinois. The partners reexamined these recommendations through the lens of COVID-19 to identify solutions for nine topics impacting rural health: children’s growth and development, an aging population, rural health workforce, housing, the rural economy, rural public health systems, nutrition and fitness, mental health and opioids.

The report states that rural residents experience the “5 D’s.”  Rural communities start at a DISADVANTAGE due to experiencing food, healthcare, social service and data DESERTS, as well as organizational and technological DISCONNECTION. Rural regions experience similar DISPARITIES to low-income urban areas but experience even fewer DEVELOPMENT opportunities than their urban counterparts.”

“The Department of Population Science and Policy was created to understand and improve the health of rural communities and small cities in Illinois – and it is undeniable that the pandemic has worsened many of the environmental and social factors that impact health,” said Dr. Sameer Vohra, Chair, Department of Population Science and Policy. “This report is an important first step of many recommendations to come throughout the year.”

The report recommends overarching action to achieve health equity: improving digital literacy and expanding telehealth, expanding mental health services, create a state taskforce to study and act on rural health improvement, constructing regional offices of health to coordinate services, collaboration of social services and health systems, investment in rural leadership and retention, transformative placemaking and a commitment to equity.

“SIU School of Medicine continues to lead in diverse efforts to improve the health and health care of central and southern Illinois,” said Jerry Kruse, Dean and Provost, SIU School of Medicine. “This work of the Illinois Rural Health Summit partners outlines key recommendations to improve the health of rural and underserved communities across our State.” 

“I’m proud that University of Illinois at Chicago is part of this statewide initiative,” said Wayne Giles, Dean, University of Illinois Chicago School of Public Health. “Health equity isn’t a rural or urban issue – it is something that we can all work together to achieve.”

The Rural Health Summit organizers will continue to explore how COVID-19 has impacted the nine focus areas in rural communities throughout the year through monthly policy briefs and webinars. Register for the webinars HERE. [LINK]

“We invite policymakers, corporate and community leaders from across the state to come together to work for a healthier Illinois,” said Linda Renee Baker, University Professor, Paul Simon Public Policy Institute. “Success will involve public-private partnerships, measures to effectively show progress and innovation that brings lasting health outcome improvement.”


Rural Health Stakeholders Convene for 2018 Illinois Rural Health Summit and Release Report

October 2018 (Springfield, IL) - The 2018 Illinois Rural Health Summit, sponsored by SIU School of Medicine Department of Population Science and Policy, Paul Simon Public Policy Institute, UIC School of Public Health, SIU School of Medicine Center for Rural Health and Social Service Development and the Illinois Department of Public Health, convened an influential group of rural health experts and stakeholders in Springfield on August 6-7, 2018. The two-day event gathered information and inspiration to begin drafting and executing a blueprint to improve the health of residents in rural Illinois.

“Our mission at SIU Medicine’s Department of Population Science and Policy is to improve health in central and southern Illinois, a mostly rural, 66-county service region. However, we know that we can’t do this alone,” said Dr. Sameer Vohra, Chair, SIU Medicine Department of Population Science and Policy. “Our hope for the Summit was to bring together dynamic, influential individuals to have frank and candid conversations of the challenges facing our residents, what innovations already exist and what we can accomplish together to improve the health of our State.”

In October 2018 Rural Health Summit organizers released its first report, "The State of Rural Health in Illinois: Great Challenges and a Path Forward." The report outlined significant challenges and health disparities faced by rural residents as compared to residents in the state's metropolitan areas. Physician shortages, opioid use, childhood disparities, an aging population, obesity, housing and the rural economy were identified as major challenges in rural communities.

The Rural Health Summit participants and organizers continue to work with legislators, rural health experts and stakeholders to identify ways to improve rural health.


Related Press Releases:

Report: COVID-19 Widens Disparities in Rural Illinois, Recommends Rural Health Improvements (LINK WITH NEWS ITEM)

Rural Health Stakeholders Convene for 2018 Illinois Rural Health Summit

Rural Health Summit Releases Report on Rural Health in Illinois


Related Documents

Building a Healthier Rural Illinois: Understanding and Addressing the Challenges of COVID-19 [LINK]

Building a Healthier Rural Illinois: One Page Summary [LINK]

The State of Rural Health in Illinois: Great Challenges and a Path Forward

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