Brain Drain

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Dr. Nesher Asner is one of just five neurosurgeons practicing in Winnebago County.

"All it's going to take is one person being knocked out of commission and things are going to get tight," said Dr. Asner.

Two of the area's neurosurgeons have left Illinois in the past year, reflecting a statewide trend. The number of brain surgeons in Illinois has dropped 26 percent in two years.

"It's about the worst I've ever seen. People are leaving the state. It's difficult to recruit people to come to the state, as well," said Dr. Patrick Daly, past president of Winnebago County Medical Society.

Competition is fierce for a dwindling pool of neurosurgeons, and Illinois isn't a good recruiting tool.

"We have problems with reimbursement from the state, on the one hand. We have problems with very high malpractice insurance rates on the other hand and we have very high rates of neurosurgeons being sued," said Dr. Asner.

Malpractice insurance rates for neurosurgeons are almost 100 percent higher in Illinois compared to neighboring Wisconsin. Some surgeons are leaving, others are scaling back services.

"It's Southern Illinois. It's from Springfield south. In other words, the entire half of the southern part of the state doesn't have an active neurosurgeon that's doing cranial work," said Dr. Daly.

Dr. Asner is seeing more and more patients from southern Illinois and even Iowa, and when it comes to head traumas those extra minutes can mean the difference between life and death.