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Gov. J.B. Pritzker discusses the state budget and issues related to Southern Illinois and SIU during a meeting with The Southern Illinoisan editorial board on March 8 in Carbondale.

ELDORADO — Gov. JB Pritzker signed legislation last Friday at Ferrell Hospital that will provide $55 million in funding for critical access hospitals, according to a news release from the governor’s office.

“Today, we are taking a step to cement my commitment to ensure that families across Illinois have access to quality, affordable health care by strengthening critical access hospitals. Health care is a right, not a privilege. Your income or your zip code should never dictate your access to that right,” Pritzker said.

Pritzker noted that critical access hospitals are on the frontlines of providing quality health care in all areas of the state, and contend with unique challenges in places where there are no other options.

In addition, critical access hospitals are often the largest employers in their communities.

The additional funding will allow those hospitals to hire more staff and expand services they offer.

Jim Farris, chief executive officer of Union County Hospital in Anna, said it is a little early to tell how that additional funding will impact individual hospitals, but it is always good when the state legislature recognizes that critical access hospitals need adequate funding.

“Critical access hospital is a special status you can request,” Farris said. “The hospital must have 25 or fewer beds, and it is only available for smaller hospitals. The average length of hospital stay has to be 96 hours (four days) or less, and the hospital must be no closer than 25 miles to the next nearest hospital.”

He added that the formula by which larger hospitals get reimbursed doesn’t work well for rural hospitals, because of their small numbers of patients. However, they do provide critical services, like emergency care, for their communities, especially the older members of their communities.

“Younger people may not have a hard time leaving town for shopping or health care, but it’s a real problem for older people,” Farris said. “It’s important to have services closer to home.”

During his visit to Ferrell Hospital, the governor thanked Illinois Hospital Association, advocates and members of the General Assembly for passing this “important legislation.”

He also reiterated his commitment to a Downstate Revitalization Plan, saying he has visited Southern Illinois several times in his first 52 days in office, including a tour of areas facing threats of serious flooding.

“I want you to know that Southern Illinois matters to my administration, and I want families who live here and raise their kids here to be able to stay here and have the opportunity to succeed here,” Pritzker said.

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Marilyn Halstead is a reporter covering Williamson County.

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