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U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen SebeliusPhoto courtesy ST. JOHN'S, AARON DURALL
U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius

Photo courtesy ST. JOHN'S, AARON DURALL

Health Secretary Sebelius visits St. John's-Aurora

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U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius was at St. John’s Hospital in Aurora yesterday to learn about the key issues facing health care delivery in rural areas. The visit was in conjunction with the White House Rural Council, established by an executive order President Obama signed into law last month.

Physicians, nurses, administrators, business leaders and consumers spoke during Sebelius’ listening session, hoping to guide the ongoing work of the White House Rural Council, a St. John’s news release said.

Roughly 16 percent of the U.S. population lives in rural counties, according to the president’s order, and health care providers during the last decade have identified provider shortages among these populations.

Health care reforms signed into law last year provide community health centers an additional $11 billion during a five-year period, according to the Center for Rural Affairs, and additional training funds aim to increase the number of primary care doctors, nurses and public health professionals in underserved areas.

“The Affordable Care Act is a powerful tool for addressing these problems as it invests in primary care and encourages primary care providers to practice in areas of need across the country,” Secretary Sebelius said in the release.

The White House Rural Council is charged with identifying new capital streams to improve access to health care and education, among other rural initiatives.

The president's executive order establishing the council states: “These communities supply our food, fiber and energy, safeguard our natural resources, and are essential in the development of science and innovation. Though rural communities face numerous challenges, they also present enormous economic potential.”

Sebelius, a former governor of Kansas, also toured the 53-bed Aurora hospital, which employs more than 200 and recorded 13,565 patient visits in fiscal 2010, according to a Mercy fact sheet. The hospital generated operating revenues in excess of $22 million last year and has been selected by consumers a “most preferred health system in southwest Missouri,” according to the National Research Corp.[[In-content Ad]]

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