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home : news : state news May 3, 2016

2/15/2013 4:13:00 AM
Governor emphasizes benefits for rural health care in budget proposal
Walker addresses employees at Ministry Saint Mary's Hospital
Gov. Scott Walker addresses employees of Ministry Medical Group Monday afternoon. Walker made stops at health care facilities in Prairie du Chien, Eau Claire, Rhinelander and De Pere Monday to tout some of the health care-related initiatives in his upcoming budget proposal.Kyle Rogers photograph

Gov. Scott Walker addresses employees of Ministry Medical Group Monday afternoon. Walker made stops at health care facilities in Prairie du Chien, Eau Claire, Rhinelander and De Pere Monday to tout some of the health care-related initiatives in his upcoming budget proposal.

Kyle Rogers photograph

Kyle Rogers
of the Northwoods River News

Gov. Scott Walker has targeted nearly $100 million of state tax dollars toward new workforce development initiatives in his 2013-’15 budget that is set to be unveiled next week.

Monday, the governor made four stops across the state — including Ministry Saint Mary’s Hospital in Rhinelander — to focus on the health care aspects of his plan. Addressing a small gathering of Ministry Medical Group employees Monday, Walker said his budget plan will help with an ongoing issue rural medical facilities like Saint Mary’s Hospital are facing — attracting and retaining quality health professionals.

Walker’s budget plan calls for investing more funds into both the Medical College of Wisconsin, headquartered in Wauwatosa, and the University of Wisconsin-Madison Medical School. Walker said with the state’s help, the Medical College of Wisconsin will expand and build new campuses in Wausau and Green Bay where students will remain for all four years of their training.

The budget plan has $3 million reserved for expansion of the UW-Madison Medical School’s WARM (Wisconsin Academy for Rural Medicine) and TRIUMPH (Training in Urban Medicine and Public Health) programs.

The governor said the new investment in medical-training programs could mean as many as 60 additional physicians produced every year, many of them likely to continue working in rural areas.

“It takes a little nudge, but when they get here they love it,” Walker said in talking about the Northwoods and other areas of Wisconsin’s less densely populated north. He referred to the focus his office has put into spurring tourism in those areas in the past two years.

“I think the same thing holds true when we talk about not only training more medical professionals, but doing so in a way that opens their eyes to the opportunity outside of Madison and Milwaukee,” Walker said. “Once we do that, I think they’ll stick around. They’ll see the value (of the rural areas).”

Other health care aspects of Walker’s workforce development initiative include investing money for grants to help rural hospitals build their infrastructure and offset the high costs of medical residencies in five key areas: family medicine, pediatrics, psychiatry, general surgery and internal medicine.

“There’s the training, but then you have to have the residencies to attract (physicians) to rural hospitals,” Walker said.

Walker said the impact of the new investments in the health care workforce goes beyond just the direct affect of increasing the number of health professionals. For rural communities, like Rhinelander, quality health care means having an incentive for other area employers to stay in a community.

“In a global economy, with good access to high-speed Internet and things of that nature, employers can be anywhere in the world,” Walker said. “But one of the deterrents to that objective of being anywhere is do their employees have access to good quality health care.”

A Ministry Medical Group radiologist told the governor that he was born and raised in Antigo, and one of the reasons he returned to the Northwoods was his desire to raise his family in a small town. He asked if initiatives to attract more medical professionals to rural areas should be occurring more at the admissions level and the recruitment of people already from small towns because those are the ones more likely to return to a rural community.

Walker said that is outside his office’s control and would be up to the medical schools themselves. However, he said it’s an idea worth mentioning to officials at the state’s medical schools.

“Obviously we have their ear with the additional resources we’re putting in,” Walker said.

The governor focused on the health care initiatives Monday, but his $100 million workforce development plan is far-reaching and in the area of education includes more funds directed at technical colleges and the K-12 system as well.

One question directed toward the governor Monday was what his 2013-’15 budget will have for K-12 school funding. 

Kim Hetland, radiation oncology manager of the James Beck Cancer Center, said in the hospital’s recruitment of new employees, a question that often gets asked is, “How are the schools?” Hetland also referred to the upcoming School District of Rhinelander referendum and the potential curriculum cuts if it is not passed.

Walker said his proposed budget does direct more state aid to schools, but admitted that it does not change the formula in place so Rhinelander won’t be seeing the benefit some schools will. Where Rhinelander can see a benefit is increases to categorical state aids that are performance-driven and outside the funding formula. Walker said changes to the formula can create “winners” and “losers” among the state’s schools, and because of that divided nature, it is difficult to include it as part of the budget process.

“We probably have to do something so nobody would lose and just more schools would win,” Walker said.

Kyle Rogers may be reached at kyle@rivernewsonline.com.

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