President's Perspective – Take Aways from Lt. Governor's Listening Tour
(Jan. 17, 2020) – Over the course of the last year, Lieutenant Governor Lynn Rogers has conducted a "listening tour" across the state as part of his duties as the head of Governor Laura Kelly's Office of Rural Prosperity. Many of you have participated in discussions with Lt. Gov. Rogers as he visited many different communities and their hospitals. His office just released a report of his listening tour, and the results are interesting and informative.
In each listening tour session across the state, the Lt. Gov. asked three questions: 1) How do you define prosperity; 2) What has your community done well to prosper; and 3) What barriers or roadblocks stand in the way of future prosperity. The answers received are not surprising. The definition of prosperity included references to strong public schools, community pride, affordable housing, population growth or stability, access to broadband and quality roads. Responses to what communities have done to prosper referred to community investment, strong and involved leaders, quality education, including higher education, and collaboration. Barriers mentioned often were limited job opportunities, declining and aging population, property taxes, negative attitudes, housing and lack of broadband access.
Also, not surprising, but very significant, is that healthcare issues were mentioned prominently in responses to each question. Prosperity included accessible and affordable healthcare; prosperous communities reported accessible and affordable healthcare; and barriers included limited access to healthcare and lack of Medicaid expansion.
With regard to healthcare issues, the report makes several policy recommendations. First, it recognizes that "The economic impact of a rural community hospital closure is greater than a cursory glance would expect. For example, on average, a rural community hospital accounts for 20 percent of the local economy and one physician generates 26 jobs." Lt. Gov. Rogers notes that because studies have demonstrated the financial vulnerability of many rural hospitals, "one of the most immediate actions that can be done to address the healthcare needs of rural communities across the state is for the Kansas Legislature to expand Medicaid." Further, when talking about infrastructure, the report stresses the importance of "access to the information superhighway" to the future of rural communities. It therefore recommends investing in a long term, sustainable, grant program to expand access to broadband across the state.
Listening is always a good place to start; so in that sense, the Report of the Office of Rural Prosperity is promising. It also does a good job of recognizing the plethora of challenges facing rural Kansas, and that solutions to those problems will not come from a "top-down, one size fits all approach," but will require collaboration and more listening.
However, much work remains. The healthcare focus needs to include a variety of approaches, including the need to explore new delivery models for communities that may choose to do so. And the entire effort needs to clearly recognize that almost all rural challenges are related: healthcare is connected to transportation, housing, education, leadership, jobs and many other community priorities. The best solutions will encompass this idea, and we look forward to working with the Governor and Lieutenant Governor as they go about crafting those solutions.