U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer announced today that the
American Recovery and Reinvestment Act that became law on February 17, 2009 will provide $300 million in federal money to the National Health Service Corps (NHSC) - part of the Health Resource and Service Administration (HRSA) - a program that recruits physicians and dentists to underserved communities across the country. This new infusion of funding is triple the amount of money that was available last year. The program helps to bring pediatricians, primary care physicians and dentists to underserved areas by offering scholarships to current students, competitive pay for doctors willing to relocate, and loan repayment assistance for doctors who work in areas with physician shortages. This funding is especially critical to urban and rural areas of Upstate New York that have been experiencing an exodus of primary care practitioners over the last ten years.
Without programs such as the National Health Service Corps and other investments in Upstate New York health care providers, the problem will only get worse. In Upstate New York, more than 54 percent of active patient care physicians are age 50 or older; 23 percent are age 60 and 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 across New York.
ospitals are the life blood of our communities and an economic engine for the entire state. However, if we cannot recruit and retain enough doctors to meet demand, the engine might just give out," Schumer said. "If we don't aggressively take steps to recruit, educate, and retain more doctors and dentists in Upstate New York, families, children and our seniors will not be able to expect the level of care they need. This funding will go a long way to reverse the Upstate doctor exodus and reverse the shortage before it gets even worse."
Schumer said that as the baby boomers age and approach 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 65, who consume the most health care resources. However, at the same time, the available supply of doctors who provide those health care services will decrease. According to the American Association of Medical Colleges, onethird (250,000) of active physicians nationwide are over 55 and likely to retire by 2020. The number of doctors who represent the newest generation of physicians will be unable to keep up with those leaving the field. Several studies have suggested a substantial physician shortage (100,000 or more) will develop nationwide in the next 20 years.
Many areas of Upstate New York have already begun to feel the impact of the looming doctor shortage. According to the Center for Health Workforce Studies at the University at Albany, from 2002 to 2006, the number of primary care physicians declined in Central New York (down 6 percent), the Mohawk Valley (down 2 percent), and the North Country (down 3 percent), while showing zero growth in the Rochester FingerLakes and Western New York areas. In addition, nearly 80 percent of New York's hospitals reported vacant hospitalbased positions for physicians, while 65 percent reported available communitybased practice opportunities for physicians in their service area. Fortysix percent indicated that physician vacancies in their hospitals were primarily attributable to an overall shortage of physicians in the region.
The National Health Service Corps has proven successful in bringing qualified physicians, dentists, and nurses to underserved areas for 35 years. Currently, over 4,600 NHSC clinicians serve in rural and urban communities nationwide, serving 5 million people. However, the program has been chronically underfunded. In fact, 80 percent of applicants must be turned away each year. The new funding included in the
American Recovery and Reinvestment Act will help the program meet more of the country's health care needs.
Increased funding for the National Health Services Corps will not only help New York tackle the physician shortage, but it will also make a dent in the growing dentist shortage in Upstate New York. New York has impressive dental health care resources, with four dental schools, and many training programs. However, only 7 percent of New York's dental school graduates go on to practice in highneed areas in New York. In Upstate New York there is only one dentist for every 1,716 residents and the concentration of dentists is geographically uneven, leaving many areas without enough dentists to meet the demand.
In 2007, Senator Schumer cosponsored the
Physician Shortage Elimination Act to provide additional investments in programs that have proven successful in reducing physician shortages. The Act proposed doubling the funding for the National Health Service Corps to ensure fewer qualified applicants were turned away from the program and more physicians could be brought to Upstate New York's underserved areas. Having reached the funding goal with the
American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, Senator Schumer said he is committed to finding other creative and longterm solutions to Upstate New York's health care provider shortage.