Rural Healthcare: Building Welcoming Communities

Many rural communities in Wisconsin face significant difficulties, with issues on the family farm to the added burdens of the COVID-19 pandemic and everything in between. The situation becomes even more challenging when these communities lack access to nearby rural hospitals. 

Workforce Challenges:

Projected workforce demand and supply imbalances extend into the 2030s, presenting a long-term issue that requires strategic planning. Rural healthcare facilities, often operating on tight budgets, find it challenging to compete with larger urban counterparts in attracting and retaining healthcare professionals.

“Shortages in the workforce are not fading as quickly as we would like. It’s imperative to think long term about our workforce solutions in rural healthcare,” says Marie Barry, Director of Community and Economic Development for the Rural Wisconsin Health Cooperative (RWHC).

Financial Strain:

Rural hospitals face a unique economic landscape, with a significant portion of their revenue—sometimes up to 60%—coming from Medicare patients and other government payers. Unlike urban counterparts, they lack the flexibility to adjust revenue streams to keep up with rising costs.

Community Challenges:

Connecting with rural hospitals goes beyond healthcare; it encompasses broader community challenges. Access to affordable housing and childcare are among the hurdles hospitals face when recruiting healthcare providers into rural areas.

“Hospitals are not just healthcare providers; they are community pillars. Challenges with housing and childcare impact not only the workforce but the overall well-being of the community,” explains Barry.

Investing in the Future Workforce:

RWHC’s initiative, the Wisconsin Collaborative for Rural Graduate Medical Education, focuses on creating rural training tracks and residency programs. By investing in training opportunities, they aim to grow a future healthcare workforce that is more likely to stay and serve in rural communities.

Barry adds, “It’s a long game. Physicians are like a swiss army knife; the tool we can use for anything. Over a decade is needed to create a physician. We’re working towards building a resilient and local healthcare workforce for the future.”

High-Quality Healthcare in Rural Wisconsin:

Despite the challenges, rural Wisconsin hospitals continue to shine in healthcare quality. Recent data reveals that the state ranks fourth nationally in five-star-rated hospitals, with 77% of hospitals achieving a four or five-star quality rating.

“We’re incredibly proud of the high-quality healthcare provided in rural Wisconsin. Supporting your local rural hospital is supporting the health and well-being of the entire community,” says Barry.