Senator Al Franken made a stop in Duluth, Minnesota on Saturday for a roundtable discussion with local health industry representatives on the challenges that come with caring for senior citizens in rural communities, a report said.
Older adults living in rural northeastern Minnesota face health care challenges from a lack of access to resources, shortage of medical staff and isolation in small towns, the representatives told Franken, the Duluth News Tribune said.
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Those challenges and possible solutions were laid out at the meeting with Franken, D-Minn., co-chairman of the bipartisan Senate Rural Health Caucus, at the Arrowhead Regional Development Commission, the report said.
Concerns expressed during the session included health care jobs going unfilled because skilled workers don’t want to move to rural Minnesota; inability to pay competitive wages to entice people to the health care industry; the need for broadband Internet in rural areas to communicate and use electronic health records; and the inability for some residents to receive services because of their distance from medical facilities, the Tribune said.
Franken pointed out that more gerontologists are going to be needed as the post-World War II baby boomer generation continues to age. Gerontology in rural areas isn’t seen as an attractive option for many people going to medical school, he said, adding, “Man, oh man, it’s a huge need”, according to the report.
Franken suggested student loan forgiveness to steer people into both a medical specialty such as gerontology, as well as specific geographic areas.
Attendees told Franken that transportation is one of their top issues as aging patients don’t have enough ways to get to their care providers that are often hours away. Local leaders said that distance makes communication and coordinating care more difficult, and that there are also big gaps in the rural health care workforce, WDIO.com said.
Franken said after the session that if a gas station is paying a higher wage than a skilled job, “we need to think about our priorities in America”, the Tribune said.