Monday, August 13, 2012

South Dakota starts program to get health workers, not just doctors, to work in rural areas

Mindy Jagerson, left and Julie Crick at
work at the Freeman Regional Health
Services Hospital (Argus-Leader photo)
Incentives to get doctors in rural areas, like this one in Missouri, are common. Now a program will put $10,000 bonuses into the hands of newly hired health-care employees if they promise to keep working in rural South Dakota for three years. The money comes from the state with a matching share from the worker's employer, reports Jon Walker of the Argus Leader in Sioux Falls. The South Dakota legislature approved the arrangement this year to protect towns where hospitals and nursing homes struggle to find employees.

The jobs include nurses, dietitians, nutritionists, lab technicians, pharmacists, paramedics, X-ray technologists and occupational, physical and respiratory therapists. "It's a no-brainer for the staff person," said Dan Gran, CEO at Freeman Regional Health Services. "They get their $10,000. All they've got to do is show up and maintain their employment. We benefit because we've retained them."  The program is limited to communities with less than 10,000 people.  If the town is smaller than 2,500, the state will pay 75 percent.

The new program bypasses federal involvement, notes Walker. It would use about $300,000 a year from the state general fund. A companion program sets up bonuses for rural health professionals with more training. They range from $35,000 for midlevel professionals to $100,000 for doctors starting new jobs and promising to stay three years in towns smaller than 10,000. The state again covers up to 75 percent of costs. Annual cost is $515,000 for the state. Deputy State Health Secretary Tom Martinec said it's reasonable to use public money to assist private business. "The fact of the matter is we need health care workers in rural areas. They're competing against larger towns. That's why we needed to step in."

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