Wisconsin’s hospitals and health systems are essential components of the state’s economy. When employers are asked to rank the factors that are most important to them when determining where to locate or expand their business, access to good health care consistently is right near the top.

Wisconsin is home to some of the highest quality health care in the country in both rural and urban communities, the result of dedicated hospital leaders, physicians and staff but also because of public policy that supports high-quality health care.

However, Wisconsin is facing some critical workforce shortages. A hospital must be staffed 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. Staffing a hospital is critical to the health and safety of our communities. The demand for health care, delivered in multiple types of settings, is accelerating as Wisconsin’s population ages and the rate of chronic disease steadily increases.

Hospitals and health care providers are seeing more patients, while at the same time a significant number of health care workers are reaching retirement age and leaving the workforce. A supply and demand one-two punch is perpetuating health care workforce shortages and demanding an all-hands-on-deck strategy to address.

Wisconsin lawmakers have responded to this workforce need by including $1 million in the current state budget to develop rural training programs for advanced practice clinicians and allied health professionals. These investments, a part of the Rural Wisconsin Initiative, will provide matching grants to hospitals that create new clinical rotations for students in rural Wisconsin, provide these students with exposure to rural communities and hopefully encourage them to stay there to practice. It’s a “grow-our-own” strategic partnership between Wisconsin hospitals and the state — and it works.

It takes strategic vision like this by public policymakers to maintain our high quality, high value health care system. These innovative workforce investments, which will be matched dollar-for-dollar by our hospitals and health systems, have proven effective for training physicians in rural communities.

We are optimistic about the prospects of expanding this model to include more health care providers and staff who we all depend on at a time we need help the most.

Contact Governor Walker and your state legislators and ask them to support a state budget that includes these innovative rural workforce investments. These bipartisan proposals will help to sustain high quality, high value health care for Wisconsin’s rural families and improve access to one of the most important infrastructures in our state’s economy.

Eric Borgerding is president and CEO of the Wisconsin Hospital Association which advocates on behalf of more than 130 hospitals and health systems to ensure Wisconsin residents have access to health care.

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Dunn County News editor

Barbara Lyon is the editor of The Dunn County News in Menomonie, WI.

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