Study Finds Rural Illinois Is Sicker And Underserved

Nov 9, 2018

A recent study found that millions of residents living in rural parts of the state are struggling to maintain “healthy, active, and productive lives” in part, due to a lack of quality healthcare.
Credit Jaclyn Driscoll / NPR Illinois

A recent study completed by the Illinois Rural Health Summit Planning Committee found that 1.5 million Illinoisans who live in rural parts of Illinois struggle to maintain "healthy, active, and productives lives." 

One of the most stark findings was the shortage of healthcare workers in rural areas. According to the study, more than 30% of rural hospitals have primary care physician shortages and more than 90% have a shortage of mental health services. 

Dr. Linda Renee Baker of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute said this shortage impacts overall healthcare. But she specifically talked about the opioid issue ravaging rural Illinois, which is causing Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome to rise. 

"It increased 212% from 2011 to 2015," she said. "That is something that as we pause and we think about the opioid issue, we also have to think about the children that are born to those mothers and the treatment (for) those children." 

The study found that children, in general, living in rural areas experience different types of disadvantages compared to the children living in urban areas. They are more likely to experience financial difficulties, physical or mental abuse, and physical and emotional neglect. Nutrition and fitness education is also lacking in rural areas, resulting in higher levels of childhood obesity. 

Affordable and quality housing is another challenge for rural residents. "Nearly one in four rural homes have been deemed inadequate," the study found. This can lead to a series of health complications including respiratory infections, cardiovascular disease, and psychological distress. 

Along with the findings, the report also listed a series of suggestions to improve underserved areas throughout Illinois. Some of those include expanding high-speed broadband, integrating health homes, and creating public-private partnerships to retain a healthcare workforce.