CHICAGO --The University of Illinois Board of Trustees today approved $14.25 million in university funds toward the cost of an addition to the National Center for Rural Health Professions at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) College of Medicine at Rockford .
The board also approved a total budget for the project of $31.3 million. Of that total, $2.175 million already has been received from the federal government, $600,000 in state repair and renovation funds have been allocated, and a small amount of private gifts has been secured. The university will continue with efforts to raise the remaining funding, approximately $14 million, from private, state, federal and community sources, which would be needed before the project could move forward.
“This new facility would enhance our ability to bring educational, research and clinical resources to bear on the health needs of rural areas throughout Illinois,” University President B. Joseph White said. “Providing high-quality healthcare to underserved communities, whether in rural or urban areas, is one of UIC's core missions.”
The addition to the National Center would include improved research space, a wet lab, an area for teaching clinical skills, a library, an auditorium and administrative space.
Faculty from UIC's colleges of medicine, pharmacy, dentistry, social work and the School of Public Health work collaboratively at Rockford on addressing health disparities in rural settings through research, education and service. Rural healthcare initiatives at Rockford are supported by a $6.4 million grant from the National Institutes of Health.
The UIC College of Medicine, the nation's largest, operates regional campuses in Rockford, Peoria and Urbana-Champaign, in addition to the main campus in Chicago. The Rockford campus opened in 1971 and serves 150 to 160 students in years two through four of medical school. The campus has more than 1,300 graduates.
Approximately 20 percent of Americans live in rural areas, but they are served by only 9 percent of the nation's physicians and also suffer from shortages of dentists, nurses, pharmacists and mental health professionals. As a result, these underserved rural areas have higher death rates and infant mortality rates. Of Illinois 's 102 counties, 83 are rural and 58 of these are considered medically underserved.
Supporting high-quality rural healthcare is one reason that UIC and several other public universities launched the Illinois Bill of Health in 2005, designed to prevent a critical shortage of healthcare practitioners in the state. Illinois's public universities are struggling to maintain viability for healthcare education and clinical services amidst increasing costs, declining operating and capital funds and aging infrastructure.
The Bill of Health seeks a dedicated stream of state funding to supplement Illinois's higher education budget to help support the rising cost of medical and healthcare education and training, as well as related patient care, at public universities. While the needs of each university are unique, their collective challenges point to a looming crisis of limited access to quality healthcare in Illinois.