This week, the Legislature passed several bills that will strengthen rural health care in South Dakota. I thank legislators for moving forward with these portions of my South Dakota WINS (Workforce Initiatives) program.
South Dakota will need thousands more health-care providers in the near future as our population ages and significant numbers of current medical professionals near retirement. The Department of Labor and Regulation estimates that more than 8,000 additional healthcare workers will be needed by 2018.
This need is especially acute in rural areas. All or portions of 59 out of the 66 counties in South Dakota have been federally designated as health professional shortage areas by federal health officials.
That's why promoting rural health occupations is one of the four main components of my South Dakota WINS plan to get more South Dakotans trained and ready to work in a rapidly changing economy. South Dakota WINS and its rural health component are designed to help assure that all citizens of the state -- no matter where they live -- have access to quality health care.
South Dakota WINS will increase the University of South Dakota Medical School class size by four students a year and create a rural track to give third-year medical students an extended experience living and training in rural communities.
South Dakota WINS will increase USD's Physician Assistant Program by five students and convert five of the current non-resident slots in each class to positions for South Dakotans. Most USD physician assistant graduates stay in South Dakota.
South Dakota WINS will expand our existing recruitment assistance program for physicians, dentists and mid-level practitioners. We'll increase to 15 the number of physicians who can participate at one time and make more physicians eligible, adding internal medicine, pediatrics and OB/GYN physicians. Pediatric dentistry will now be eligible for participation along with the current general dentistry. We'll also increase to 15 the number of mid-levels, including physician assistants, certified nurse midwives, and certified nurse practitioners.
South Dakota WINS will help rural hospitals and nursing homes recruit health professionals --from dietitians and nurses to physical therapists and lab techs -- by increasing to $10,000 the incentive paid to participants in facility recruitment assistance programs.
At the state level, we recognize that recruiting and retaining health-care professionals is an ongoing challenge for rural communities and facilities, and we're committed to working with them. The tools offered by South Dakota WINS can help meet those challenges and assure quality health care for all South Dakotans, wherever you may live.