GIBSON CITY – As chair of the Governor’s Rural Affairs Council, Lt. Governor Sheila Simon will host a rural listening post in Gibson City on Thursday afternoon to gather ideas on how to improve the quality of life in rural communities.
The public forum will be held from 11:30 a.m. – 1:30 p.m. in the Banquet Room at the Railside Golf Club in Gibson City. It is the fourth in a statewide series of “rural listening posts” hosted by the Rural Affairs Council and the Illinois Institute for Rural Affairs (IIRA) at Western Illinois University. Feedback from the forums will be collected by the IIRA and used to develop a strategic plan for the council and its member agencies.
The listening posts give rural leaders, citizens and employers the opportunity to provide input on a variety of issues including health care, education, infrastructure, business climate, workforce training and quality of life.
“This is an opportunity for the Rural Affairs Council to learn about the diversity of rural Illinois and hear directly from citizens about their concerns,” said Simon. “These concerns include the need for quality healthcare, which includes access to emergency medical services.”
Among the participants scheduled to join Simon at the listening post is Robin Rose, a member of the Rural Affairs Council and the chief operating officer and chief nursing officer at Gibson Area Hospital (GAH) in Gibson City. Rose will discuss how Gibson Area Ambulance improved services in rural areas thanks to joining a hospital system.
Before GAH purchased Gibson Area Ambulance in 1997, the EMS provider was a volunteer agency, but today has a paid staff of 32 full-time personnel that are hospital employees along with five ambulances. The ambulance service covers 875 square miles in the rural areas of Champaign, Ford, Iroquois, Livingston, McLean and Vermilion counties.
GAH is also able to provide training so emergency medical technicians can complete their continuing education hours and remain certified. Four years ago the hospital began to provide training to nurses, hospital personnel, and local nursing home employees so that a variety of community members can act as first responders until an ambulance arrives.
"As part of the hospital, Gibson Area Ambulance not only has an all paid staff, but can coordinate service with the rest of the hospital system," Rose said. "This structure has also made it possible to dedicate resources to educating first responders across four counties to ensure continuum of care in the region."
Efforts like these to further integrate EMS into the healthcare system can help providers that struggle to maintain 24-hour service in areas with declining and aging populations, according to Greg Scott the director of the McLean County Area EMS System and a Rural Affairs Council member.
“It is important that EMS be recognized as an essential service across Illinois,” Scott said. “I appreciate Lt. Governor Simon taking a true vested interest in the challenges that rural EMS providers are facing. The Rural Affairs Council’s work on this issue will help to maintain an intact rural EMS system so that rural citizens will have assistance when needed.”
Rural listening posts were held by Lt. Governor George Ryan across Illinois in 1986 and led to creation of the Governor’s Rural Affairs Council the following year. In 1998, 2000 and 2007, the Rural Affairs Council, the IIRA and the Illinois Rural Partners, a non-profit, organized listening posts across Illinois to directly gather input from rural citizens. The 25-member council is comprised of citizen members and representatives from various state agencies, institutions and organizations that impact rural Illinois.
Upcoming listening posts will be held in Freeport and Quincy. For more information on the rural listening posts, please visit www.ltgov.illinois.gov.