New Recommendations Aim to End Illinois’ Rural Health Crisis

Buildings line Main Street in the town of Warren, Illinois.

Illinois officials must take swift action to end the rural mental health crisis worsened by COVID-19, says a new policy brief released by Rural Health Summit organizers, 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. Illinois needs a statewide telepsychiatry program, integration of mental/behavioral health providers into primary care and targeted investment in developing innovative models of mental health care to improve rural mental health.

The Rural Health Summit group, which includes SPH’s Guddi Kapadia, associate director of the Policy, Practice and Prevention Research Center, recommends substantive actions to improve mental and behavioral health care in rural Illinois:

  • Adopt a statewide telepsychiatry program to connect rural Illinoisans to timely and effective mental and behavioral healthcare services.
  • Expand funding to Rural Health Clinics to better allow for integration of mental, behavioral health and substance abuse treatment into primary care.
  • Invest in piloting and scaling new models of mental health services, especially for children and the aging, that customize care based on individual needs and integrate with social service sectors.

“During Mental Health Awareness month we need to raise awareness of the debilitating lack of mental and behavioral health resources in rural Illinois,” said Dr. Sameer Vohra, chair of SIU Medicine’s Department of Population Science and Policy. “Rural residents have few opportunities to innovate new models of care, reduce mental health stigma and integrate mental and behavioral health care with other social services. This set of recommendations addresses both the preexisting conditions and acute challenges caused by COVID-19 for Illinois’ rural population. Our conversations with statewide experts uncovered inspiring innovation in our rural communities as well as a need for resources and support.”

The policy recommendations are the result of discussions from rural health stakeholders, community leaders, legislators, physicians and experts from organizations throughout Illinois and build on the Rural Health Summit’s initial report, “Building a Healthier Rural Illinois: Understanding and Addressing the Challenges of COVID-19.”

The Rural Health Summit is releasing monthly topic-specific policy briefs and hosting corresponding webinars through January 2022 on topics of an aging rural population, mental health, public health systems, nutrition and fitness, children’s growth and development, workforce development, opioids, health and housing and economic development.

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