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With Central New York On The Brink Of A Serious Doctor Shortage, Schumer Announces New Legislation To Prevent Health Care Crisis

Standing with Leading CNY Physicians and the head of SUNY Upstate, Schumer to Reveal that 1 in 3 Doctors Are Set to Retire by 2020 with Not Nearly Enough Med Students In the Pipeline to Fill the Void

With Demand for Physician Services Skyrocketing, Schumer Legislation Would Double Funding to Vital Programs to Attract New, Young Doctors to Underserved Areas

Schumer: If We Don'

Standing with Central New York health care leaders, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer unveiled new legislation to address the severe physician shortage facing the Syracuse area and countless other regions across New York State. The shortage threatens doctors of all stripes, from pediatricians, to internists, to general surgeons. Earlier this year, 50 percent of the pediatric surgeons practicing in the Syracuse area either retired or left the area. In Upstate New York, more than 52 percent of active patient care physicians are age 50 or older. Schumer said that without decisive intervention, these trends will have a serious impact on physicians' and hospitals' ability to care for patients and communities in Upstate New York.

"Our hospitals are the life blood of our community and an economic engine for the entire state," Schumer said. "However, if we cannot recruit and retain enough doctors to meet demand, the engine might just give out. Fewer doctors mean longer shifts, longer waits to see doctors and nurses, longer response times to in-patient emergencies, and too few hands on deck during a crisis. If we don't aggressively take steps to recruit, educate, and retain more doctors in physician shortage areas, patients will not be able to expect the level of care they've come to rely on. That's not something anyone wants to see, and we need to stop the shortage before it gets even worse."

Schumer said that as the baby boomers age in to retirement, demand for medical services and health care will skyrocket. Nationwide, the US population is growing rapidly with the largest growth occurring in people over the age of 65, who consume the greatest health care resources. In addition, the expectations and wealth of Americans will motivate and enable them to use more health care services.

However, the available supply of doctors to provide those health care services will decrease. According to the American Association of Medical Colleges, one-third (250,000) of active physicians nationwide are over age 55 and likely to retire by 2020, and the newest generation of physicians is unlikely to be willing to work the long hours that prior generations of physicians reportedly worked. The physician-to-population ratio will peak by 2020 when Americans will need more, not fewer, medical services and the baby boomers begin to approach 75 years of age. Several studies have suggested a substantial physician shortage (100,000 or more) will develop nationwide in the next 20 years.

In Central New York, 34 percent of physicians are 55 or older with another 34 percent between the ages of 45 and 55. Only 5 percent of doctors in Central New York are under 35. According to the Center for Health Workforce Studies, 516 physicians currently work in the Central New York region, meaning 175 could retire by 2020.

In Upstate New York, more than 52 percent of active patient care physicians are age 50 or older, according to a recent report by the SUNY Center for Health Workforce Studies. Statistics from the New York State Department of Labor indicate that the projected percentage of annual growth of physicians and surgeons from 2004-2014 statewide is 10 percent, whereas the expected population growth rate is 14 percent annually for Upstate.

Schumer said age is not the only factor that is causing this looming shortage. Health care leaders overwhelmingly agree that urban areas in the Northeast are having significant problems, not only recruiting medical students, but retaining them to practice medicine in the area. Schumer said that there is widespread agreement that the first place where this shortage will be felt are poorer, urban areas and rural communities. Hospitals are feeling the shortage right now. This shortage will be fully underway within just a few years in subspecialty practices such as radiology and dermatology.

Shortages would follow next in the categories of general surgery and primary care - which includes pediatricians -- and generally agreed upon projections indicate the situation could become a full blown crisis particularly affecting the smaller cities of central and upstate regions.

According to a study by the SUNY Center for Health Workforce Studies, nearly 80 percent of hospitals reported vacant hospital-based positions for physicians, while 65 percent reported available community-based practice opportunities for physicians in their service area. Forty-six percent indicated that physician vacancies in their hospitals were primarily attributable to an overall shortage of physicians in the region, while 18 percent cited poor reimbursement for physician services in the regions as the primary cause for the vacancies.

To address this looming shortage and prevent a health care crisis, Schumer announced new comprehensive legislation that will help hospitals and underserved localities recruit doctors and provide much needed funding for programs that send doctors to underserved areas.

The bi-partisan Physician Shortage Elimination Act of 2007 provides additional investments in programs that have been effective in attracting and retaining physicians to serve in our most underserved areas of the country. Specifically the bill will:

• Double funding for the National Health Service Corp - a program that is dedicated to meeting the needs of the underserved. Despite its success, it has been vastly under funded - in fact 80 percent of applicants must be turned away each year.

• Allow rural and underserved physician residency programs to expand by removing barriers that prevent programs from developing rural training programs.

• Double certain Title VII funding for programs that target disadvantaged youth in rural and underserved areas and nurture them to create a "pipeline" to careers in healthcare; and

• Bolster the health care cornerstone of underserved areas, the community health center, through grants and by allowing them to expand their residency programs.

Schumer was joined by SUNY Upstate President David R. Smith, Andrea Manyon, Chair of Family Medicine, Shawn Conlon, Fourth Year Med Student, former RMED Student in Cortland, and others.


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