ROBERTS, Ill. (WCIA) – One Ford County Board member wants to solve a problem plaguing many communities like his across the country.
“We don’t have any doctors, we don’t have any clinics, we don’t have anything like that,” Tim Nuss said.
From his village, Nuss says the closest options for medical care are Gibson Area Hospital and a clinic in Paxton. While that might be an easy drive for young, healthy people, traveling there is burdensome enough to prevent others from getting check-ups. That means sometimes, they don’t even know they’re sick until it’s too late.
“I want to give you a reason to move to my area. And that’s a struggle every day when you ask me a question like, ‘what do you have for health care?” Nuss said.
The answer is almost nothing for nine towns in the district Tim Nuss represents. While Roberts, Illinois has a population of only a few hundred…
“I could fill this house and then some in a gymnasium with people that need it, want it and are begging for it but don’t know where to turn,” Nuss said.
Nuss said the Covid-19 pandemic unmasked the issue of rural health disparity in his community.
“We had so many people dealing with that stuff alone. They didn’t want to bother anybody. ‘Oh, it’s the cold, it’s the flu, or something like that. No it wasn’t,” he said.
He’s hoping other Ford County Board members will join him in making a change.
“We’ve learned from what happened then,” Nuss said. “We’re going to make things different. We have to.”
The CDC reports people in rural counties die from the top five causes of death more frequently than those in urban areas – and many of those deaths are preventable. Contributing factors include lifestyle differences, environmental conditions and aging populations, but the CDC says these regions also have higher rates of poverty and less access to medical care.
“They’re cutting back in every way they can and I know a lot of people are cutting back on their health care,” Nuss said.
Sure, there’s a hospital and clinic a couple towns over. But Nuss says they’re busy, and appointments are often booked out a month at a time.
“That’s no fault of theirs. They’re doing the best they possibly can. But some of my people need it and they need it now,” he said.
Transportation poses another challenge, especially for people who are already sick. It’s an issue on State Senator Tom Bennett’s radar as well.
“The distance, driving – it’s not just around the corner. That’s part of what rural Illinois is about. Trying to find ways to resolve some of that is a challenge, for sure,” Bennett said.
With enough help, Nuss is hoping he can bring more providers and more care to the people in his district who need it.
“We work together in these small towns. We have to – to keep them together,” he said.
So, what can be done? Nuss has a few ideas, including bringing mobile health clinics to small towns. He says early disease detection is important, and he doesn’t want his district to be left out.