At a recent Senate Finance Committee hearing, Senator John Barrasso discussed health access challenges facing Wyoming with rural health experts.

Barrasso specifically highlighted the need to invest in rural medical residency training programs, improve access to maternity services, and counteract the effects of rural hospital closures.

Keith J. Mueller, Ph.D., Lori Rodefeld, Ms, Jeremy P. Davis, MHA, and Michael Topchik testified at Thursday’s Senate Committee on Finance hearing on Rural Health Care: Supporting Lives and Improving Communities.

On Increasing Doctors in Rural Hospitals Through Training Programs

“In Wyoming, our medical school works in partnership with the University of Washington, along with Montana, Alaska, and Idaho in the WWAMI program.

“What we’ve found out is that giving students a rural experience and residents rural experience helps them recognize early in their career the benefits of working in rural clinics and hospitals, and hopefully then moving there and practicing there full time.

“I think it's encouraging, it's a great recruitment tool if they have that experience. Research shows residents are more than five times more likely to then go on and practice in a rural community if their residencies are in those types of communities.

“And I see Ms. Rodefeld, you agree and I'm going to have a question for you soon about OBGYN care in some of these areas.

“That's why I've introduced legislation called the Rural Physician Workforce Production Act to provide additional funds to rural hospitals that train residents.

“Right now, so much of the funding goes to the larger community – the large city hospitals – not the rural experience.

“This is political, but it's bipartisan, because if you're a senator – whether you're a Republican or Democrat – you're from a state that has a lot of rural areas. You want to get doctors into those areas.

“So how could a program like this, this model for training in rural areas, actually help training programs be more viable in those locations?”

On Improving Access to Maternal Care in Rural Areas

“In Wyoming, due to financial strains and workforce shortages, maternity services are closing – and you're an expert in this area.

“Five of our counties have lost maternity services entirely. Seven others have minimal access to care. And it's leaving only eleven of our twenty-three counties with adequate access to OB services.

“Now, just for reference, every single county in Wyoming is larger than the entire state of Delaware or the entire state of Rhode Island. Some of our counties are larger than Connecticut, larger than the state of New Jersey.

“Can you imagine if the entire state of Delaware or Rhode Island or New Jersey lost all of their OB services? You know it would be in the front page of every paper.

“So what I would like to talk to you about – as the expert you are – is how we can address this crisis.

“It's a matter of health and economic viability for rural America. If you can't provide opportunities to deliver babies or to recruit teachers, people in small businesses, all of those things.

“You really were successful, I thought, in Wisconsin in crafting that residency program to be a tool to addressing rural access.

“So on the federal level can we mirror the access and the success that you've had?”

On Counteracting Rural Hospital Closures

“I'm there in the community a lot as rural hospitals and clinics across the country are closing at a higher rate than urban hospitals. Patients are forced to travel greater distances.

“I think that telehealth has helped, but how else can we strengthen rural care so patients are not forced to drive hours for care?"

Donovan Short

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