The old saying goes, “it takes a village”. We have reason to believe that saying originated with our Illinois member, Julie Casper, who has created a “village” so impressively effective when it comes to connecting health professionals with rural and underserved communities, we had to write an entire blog post acknowledging their achievements!
Julie works for the Illinois Center for Rural Health located within the Illinois Department of Public Health, which manages several federal grants including the State Office of Rural Health (SORH), Primary Care Office (PCO), State Loan Repayment Program (SLRP), Medicare Rural Hospital Flexibility (FLEX) and Small Hospital Improvement Program (SHIP) and helps to facilitate the third most number of National Health Service Corps (NHSC) provider placements in the nation. And, this is all done with three people: Julie, and her colleagues, Don Jones and Dianne Roberts.
“Illinois is very heavy in workforce efforts,” Julie said. “We have the fifth highest number of health professional shortage areas (HPSAs) in the country, so it’s very important that we work hard to make sure some of those areas that need providers so badly are able to get them.”
The village neighborhood that includes 3RNet is a great example of how Julie and her team work: its foundation is built on strong, key partnerships. In this case those partnerships include the Illinois Critical Access Hospital Network (ICAHN) and the Illinois Primary Health Care Association (IPHCA). ICAHN works with 53 critical access hospitals in Illinois, and IPHCA works with many of the state’s community health centers. Illinois has the fourth largest number of community health centers in the country.
Julie works closely with Carrie Galbraith from ICAHN and Ashley Colwell with the IPHCA. As the Illinois 3RNet organizational member, Julie has exclusive access to the jobs posted on the 3RNet website. Without the partnerships that Julie has with both Carrie and Ashley and their respective organizations, Illinois could be losing out on placing providers in areas of need.
“We could not do this all on our own. We work very closely with all of our sites and we have great partners! We are always looking for any way we can partner to get greater access to underserved areas,” Julie said. “We’re a small office in a big state. We are fortunate to have partners with the same goals and mission. Without them we couldn’t get it all done.”
Rest assured, this team is making sure that does not happen. Their numbers speak for themselves! Illinois placed the following numbers of providers in 2014:
- Nursing Scholarship program: over 100 new nurses in underserved areas
- State Loan Repayment Program (SLRP): 60-80 new providers in HPSAs
- 383 National Health Service Corps providers
- 30 new J-1 Visa Waiver physicians
All of these placements add up to almost 900,000 patients being seen in Illinois in the past year! That’s over half a million people who have access to care who wouldn’t without the good work being done in Illinois. In 2014, several of the successful job placements Illinois had were from 3RNet referrals.
“A lot of providers and sites tell us that if it weren’t for incentives, providers would not go to these not-for-profit sites. They get out of school with more and more debt; as much as their heart tells them they want to do it, they wouldn’t be able to work in an area of need without these programs,” Julie said.
How do IPHCA and ICAHN feel about being part of the village? They’re happy to be along for the ride, and, they’re grateful to be ‘neighbors’! Ashley and Carrie are both partners with Julie, but they’ve formed unique relationships with each other, too.
“Access to 3RNet’s network of people is so important—the member support and education alone are worth it for me. There are certain aspects about the way we recruit providers: we’re a non-profit, we are not an agency recruiter, that only a few understand,” Carrie said. “Even better, in Illinois I’m part of a network of people who have the same goal. We work together, we’re not really competitive. We all want what’s best for the candidate. You’re not going to put a square peg in a round hole. If you did, you’ll wish you hadn’t!”
What could seem like an opportunity for some stiff competition has developed into a supportive system for all three organizations. Illinois’ system for leveraging 3RNet (among other programs) is as unique as the state itself. At the end of the day, although all three see opportunity for change and room for improvement, Julie, Ashley, and Carrie, along with their teams, are working together in the way they know best so their ‘village’ benefits the entire state of Illinois.
“Our relationship with Julie is different than Carrie’s, and while Carrie and I didn’t necessarily have a direct relationship, we have built that. We both know that we can help each other, share information, ask questions, and the open lines of communication we have with both ICAHN and the Illinois Center for Rural Health are so important and helpful for the work we’re all doing for our state,” Ashley said.
It turns out Illinois is not only a great example for getting a lot of work done with a few people that makes a huge difference in access to health care, they’re also a great example of how a ‘village’ is more than coexisting—it’s collaborating to complete the best work possible.
We bet there are many real ‘villages’ in the form of rural towns, counties, and even cities in Illinois, that would agree.