Illinois’ rural hospitals celebrate National Rural Health Day on November 18

By A.J. Wilhelmi, President & CEO, Illinois Health and Hospital Association and Pat Schou, Executive Director, Illinois Critical Access Hospital Network

More than 1.4 million Illinoisans live in rural communities and rely on their local hospital as an important—and often only—source of care. As representatives of Illinois’ 87 small and rural hospitals, including 51 critical access hospitals, the Illinois Health and Hospital Association (IHA) and the Illinois Critical Access Hospital Network (ICAHN) are proud to recognize National Rural Health Day (November 18), which celebrates rural communities, highlights the unique health challenges and opportunities they face, and brings together hospitals and other stakeholders who work tirelessly to improve the health and well-being of their neighbors.

The dedication of small and rural hospitals to provide access to quality healthcare has been highlighted during the last 20 months of the pandemic. When cases started to present in Illinois, hospitals such as Hopedale Medical Complex, jumped in to help screen patients for COVID-19 symptoms. A triage tent was quickly established, and a trailer was later added to their COVID-19 triage unit for clinicians to take s-rays and lab samples, as well as perform a full patient exam. Southern Illinois Healthcare began conducting virtual visits for established primary care patients through the SIH Medical Group.

Telehealth helped reduce the risk of exposure to COVID-19, especially for those who are more vulnerable to serious illness from the virus. Physicians were able to manage patients’ chronic conditions, provide mental health follow-up care, and evaluate rashes and other minor conditions. And over the past few months, hospitals across southern Illinois have courageously weathered the state’s latest major surge of COVID-19 cases, continuing to save lives under the most trying of circumstances. The list of services that Illinois’ small and rural hospitals have provided during the pandemic is extensive, and it is filled with examples of neighbors helping neighbors.

Unfortunately, the pandemic has also intensified many persistent challenges facing rural hospitals, including workforce shortages, lack of capital improvement funding, and declining reimbursement. At the same time, the pandemic laid bare the impact that social and structural determinants of health have on individuals and communities.

In spite of these challenges, and in the midst of herculean efforts to respond to the virus, rural hospitals provided all of us with something critically important: assurance that when we need it most, the care will be there, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Today, we recognize and thank the heroes who work in rural hospitals, and we acknowledge their many sacrifices during the pandemic.
To be sure, each hospital and community is unique, and their challenges both complex and multi-faceted, which means there is not a one-size-fits-all solution. IHA and ICAHN appreciate recent actions Congress and federal policymakers have taken to support rural hospitals during the pandemic including providing emergency funding, telehealth flexibilities, expanding coverage, and directing targeted resources to support rural and underserved communities. As Congress finishes the year, we urge the state’s delegation to prevent any cuts to hospitals, provide capital improvement funding opportunities, and advance legislation to shore up the healthcare workforce, including passing bills introduced by Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), Rep. Brad Schneider (D-10), Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-17) and Rodney Davis (R-13).

IHA and ICAHN appreciate the leadership of our policymakers and stand with them as they work to advance targeted policies and deliver new tools and resources that enable rural communities to do what they do best—roll up their sleeves, work together and take care of their neighbors.

Shown above is Randall W. Dauby, 2021 Rural Health Hero.

The University of Illinois College of Medicine Rockford’s National Center for Rural Health Professions presented a 2021 Rural Health Hero Award to Randall W. Dauby, CPA, CEO, Pinckneyville Community Hospital, as part of their National Rural Health Day celebration.

“Throughout his career, Randy Dauby has been a tireless advocate for rural health workforce needs,” says Hana Hinkle, PhD, interim director of the National Center for Rural Health Professions. Hinkle notes that Dauby and Pinckneyville Community Hospital have been a long-time partner of the college’s Rural Medical Education Program, helping to train medical students who are interested in practicing in a rural area.

Pinckneyville Community Hospital also recently partnered with the Illinois Area Health Education Centers Network Program of the National Center for Rural Health Professions to become a host site for the South Central AHEC Center. This center serves 16 counties with programs to give young people a head start toward a health profession and to help current health professionals advance in their careers.

The National Center for Rural Health Professions is located on the University of Illinois Chicago’s Health Sciences Campus-Rockford, 1601 Parkview Ave., and strives to meet the healthcare needs of rural residents and their communities in Illinois, around the nation and throughout the world. Approved by the Illinois Board of Higher Education since 2003, this UIC College of Medicine Rockford center has programs and collaborative partnerships that have become successful models for education, service, research and policy related to rural health involving multiple health professions. For more information, visit