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BOISE -- A bid to use student loan repayment to draw psychiatrists and other medical professionals to Idaho's rural state psychiatric hospitals passed the House.

Both State Hospital North in Orofino and State Hospital South in Blackfoot are currently understaffed, due to the difficulty in recruiting doctors to the sites' remote locations.

Officials think they can change that by offering to pay a portion of employees' student debt after they `ve worked there for at least one year.

Rep. Luke Malek, a Republican from Coeur d'Alene, noted the bill would not only help the hospitals recruit, but could be instrumental in retaining current employees as well.

The program, which costs $170,000 per year, has already won unanimous Senate backing.

Gov. C.L. Butch Otter will now decide whether to sign it into law.

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