By Kris Leonhardt
MARSHFIELD — As part of a continuing series on issues affecting rural communities, the UW Colleges and UW-Extension hosted the Rural Healthcare Community Roundtable in the Froehlke Auditorium of the Marshfield Clinic Laird Center on May 31.
The discussion addressed the shift in the country’s population to urban and suburban settings from rural areas, which causes reductions in the work force, available tax funds, educational opportunities, and quality health care.
The event was facilitated by Cathy Sandeen, UW Colleges/UW-Extension chancellor.
“In Wisconsin this is a big issue because out of our 72 counties, 46 percent of them are categorized as being rural, so population declines and aging population have different effects, negative effects I guess you could say, on the work force, on decreases in school funding, and access to quality health care the more distant you are from an urban area,” Sandeen said. “Some statistics about rural health care in our state: Thirteen percent of the state’s primary care physicians practice in rural areas, and as I mentioned, more than half of our counties are considered to be rural areas, and only 13 percent of the primary care physicians practice there. That equates to roughly one physician for over 2,200 residents.
“Based on health care statistics and county health rankings, citizens in rural areas have a higher risk of health problems compared to their neighbors in urban counties.
“More than 250,000 Wisconsinites live beyond 15 miles of a hospital. Greater travel distance to facilities adds additional burdens to these families, so there (are) a lot of reasons why we need to care about what is going on in terms of health care in rural Wisconsin.”
The roundtable discussion panel included Dr. Matthew Jansen, Division of Education medical director for Marshfield Clinic and an internal medicine physician who has been with the clinic for 25 years, who addressed the distribution of health care funding.
“One area I would like to see improvements on regarding funding, … to become a physician, first you do undergraduate. Then you do medical school. Then you do residency,” explained Jansen. “Residencies are covered. The costs are offset by federal funding through the Center for Medicaid-Medicare Service, and that is a capped amount. … As the need for medical services has expanded since then, the federal funding for it has not. That has resulted in the cost have to be shouldered by the communities, by the health care systems as such.”
Jansen also addressed the distribution of the funds. Because most of the training occurs in larger cities, graduates are often drawn to urban areas.
“When you graduate from medical school, you tend to practice in a 100-mile radius of where you graduated from,” added Jansen. “As a result, our rural areas are getting shorted.”
Also serving on the panel were Susan Schueler-Sheveland, Wood County Human Services Outpatient Clinic manager; Amber Canto, UW-Extension state coordinator of the FoodWise program; Judee Richardson from the UW-Extension Flexible Option program; and Patti Thwaits, coordinator of the WisPACT program at UW-Marathon County in Wausau.