Now that the governor has signed the 2017-19 state budget, I’d like to share some additional thoughts I have on it highlighting some of the provisions in the budget related to rural healthcare and mental health access and how they relate to our part of the state.

As I’ve stated previously, although one can’t always get everything they want in a significant negotiation, there are a number of wins in this session’s state budget that folks in rural Wisconsin can be pleased with. In addition to the historic investments in K-12 education funding, I’m especially thrilled with a number of the provisions in the budget − some initially proposed by the governor and others added by my colleagues in the Legislature − related to rural healthcare and mental healthcare access. These are two issues very near and dear to my heart, issues that I’ve fought for since I started in the Legislature, issues I will continue to fight for, and issues I’ve tirelessly advocated for in this session’s biennial budget.

For example, in this budget, two new programs related to student mental health were added. First, there are provisions for School Mental Health aid to reimburse schools for costs related to providing mental health services to students. Second, there are Community and School Mental Health Collaboration grants included to help schools connect with area health providers to meet student needs.

In addition, two budget proposals I held a hearing on earlier this year as chair of the Rural Development and Mining Committee were included in the biennial budget. Five hundred thousand dollars was allocated for training allied health professionals and another $500,000 was allocated for training advanced practice clinicians in our rural communities. This means an increased opportunity to educate, train and keep nurses, physician assistants, anesthesiologists, dieticians and occupational therapists at our local hospitals and healthcare facilities.

On top of that, this budget includes increases in funding for the disproportionate share hospitals and critical access care facilities we have in our communities, as well as increases in nursing home reimbursement and personal care worker rates. Significant investments in family care and dementia care specialists are included, and also, in direct response to requests from our local public health departments, this budget includes $1 million allocated to them for the control and prevention of communicable diseases throughout Wisconsin.

While I’m delighted with these provisions, my work on these issues will not stop. I’m eagerly anticipating a hearing to be held Thursday, Sept. 28, before the Assembly Committee on Health, where two proposals I’ve authored and introduced will be heard at a public hearing. They are Assembly Bill 305, relating to grants for language interpretation in healthcare settings, and Assembly Bill 500, the enhanced nurse licensure compact. The proposals will help to increase access for our residents and also empower our medical professionals to continue to provide excellent care right here in our local communities.

Republican Nancy VanderMeer, Tomah represents the 70th Assembly District.