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Rochester Has One of Nation’s Highest Poverty Rates, Leaving Far Too Many Without Access to Care They Need – However, Currently, Only Sections of the City are Incorporated Into the “Health Professional Shortage Area,” Meaning The City is Missing Out on Key Funding to Attract Docs  

Schumer, Gillibrand Say Bringing Entire City into HPSA Would Allow it to Better Train & Attract Health Care Professionals to Rochester – HPSA Designation Would Allow City to Receive Federal Benefits For Training Health Professionals, Provide Docs With Loan Forgiveness, And Allocate Bonus Medicare Payments For Primary Doctors

Schumer, Gillibrand: Designating All of Rochester as a “Health Professional Shortage Area” Will Help Solve the Shortage of Primary Care Docs in the Region

U.S. Senators Charles E. Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand today urged the federal Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to designate the entire City of Rochester as a Geographic Health Professional Shortage Area (HPSA). Schumer and Gillibrand said that by designating Rochester as a HPSA, the city would be eligible to receive federal resources and benefits that would help it attract additional health care professionals to the Rochester region. Schumer and Gillibrand said that, currently, only certain sections of the City of Rochester are incorporated into the HPSA zone, meaning the City as a whole is missing out on these key federal resources and funding opportunities. HPSA benefits include support for training and recruitment of health professionals, enhanced payments through Medicare and Medicaid, and immigration waivers for foreign-born physicians looking to practice in the area. These federal benefits are a significant resource for health centers in underserved areas. With this comprehensive HPSA designation, Rochester-area primary care doctors would also be eligible for loan forgiveness if their practice was a part of the HPSA. Schumer and Gillibrand said these benefits would be of great assistance to the City of Rochester when it comes to attracting new physicians to the area, as it has one of the highest poverty rates in the country.

“The City of Rochester leads the nation in infant mortality and hospitalizations per capita, but with one of the lowest doctor-to-patient ratios in any major city many residents are not getting the access to proper care they need. That is why I am strongly urging the federal HHS to designate the entire City of Rochester as a ‘Health Professional Shortage Area’ – a designation that will provide federal resources and benefits to attract the doctors we need to fix this shortage,” said Senator Schumer. “Rochester needs the resources and tools to bring highly skilled doctors to the area and ensure the highest quality of care for the whole region.”

“We need to take every step necessary to increase the number of health care professionals in Rochester communities,” saidSenator Gillibrand. “Designating Rochester as a Geographic Health Professional Shortage Area, is critical to delivering the equipment, services and staff needed to provide quality care and treatment for families in the area. I will continue to push the Department of Health and Human Services to invest in the critical resources we need to help some of the most vulnerable and save lives in our community.”

Schumer and Gillibrand explained that the City of Rochester is the fifth poorest city in the country and the second poorest among comparably sized cities, with a poverty rate of 16.2 percent. More than 55 percent of Rochester children live in poverty, while more residents are currently living at less than half the federal poverty level than any other large city in the country. For a family of four, this could mean living on less than $11,925 a year. When housing, food and basic necessities are taken into account, the remaining balance is oftentimes not enough to provide health care for the family. The City of Rochester specifically has the highest infant mortality in the Finger Lakes region (13.7%) and the fourth highest child poverty rate nationwide (Detroit, Cleveland and Dayton, Ohio are higher).

Schumer and Gillibrand said, for these reasons, it is very difficult for the City to attract physicians to this underserved area without additional incentives. Providing the City of Rochester, the Senators said, with the additional resources to bring more physicians to the area – by designating it a HPSA– would help the region lift itself out of poverty. HPSAs are designated by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) as having shortages of primary medical care, dental or mental health providers. Schumer and Gillibrand said having this HPSA designation would allow the City to better recruit doctors and health professionals by offering increased benefits to its physicians, including loan forgiveness, enhanced Medicare reimbursement rates, and the prioritization of foreign practitioners looking to move to Rochester.

According to the 2015 Physician Workforce Report published by the Monroe County Medical Society, Rochester residents are finding it increasingly difficult to find new doctors. Schumer said that, according to the report, which surveyed doctors in the Rochester-Finger Lakes area, 23 percent of doctors accepting new patients are excluding new Medicaid patients. Schumer and Gillibrand said that leaves a huge percentage of the low-income Rochester residents without a physician. Without a physician, the Senators said, a low-income child could have an illness go untreated for weeks and only when it becomes serious do they go to the emergency room. Schumer and Gillibrand said this is practice is dangerous and needs to be addressed immediately, which is why he is pushing HHS to designate Rochester as an HPSA.

Schumer and Gillibrand said giving Rochester the HPSA designation would have three major benefits. First, it would allow loan forgiveness benefits for primary care doctors who have an established practice within the zone and are working as part of the National Health Services Corps, a program that recruits providers to serve in high need areas. Hospitals would also have access to resources to recruit, train and support new health professionals. Second, all physicians who accept new Medicare and Medicaid patients would receive bonus payments up to 10 percent for their services. Schumer and Gillibrand said that would incentivize doctors to accept new patients, as opposed to their current practice of turning them away. Third, HPSA designation would give providers in the zone priority in seeking J-1 visas for foreign-born physicians. This would benefit hospitals and practices across the Greater Rochester region such as the University of Rochester Golisano Children’s Hospital.

Schumer and Gillibrand said New York Governor Andrew Cuomo previously took the mandatory step of requesting the HPSA designation for Rochester. Now, Schumer and Gillibrand are urging HHS to expeditiously re-designate this community as a HPSA given the shortest of health professionals in the City of Rochester. Schumer and Gillibrand said the shortage of physicians in the Rochester area, which has produced one of the lowest doctor-to-patient ratios in the country, leaves many of the region’s most vulnerable residents without the proper care they need. 

A copy of Schumer and Gillibrand’s letter to HHS Secretary Burwell is available below:

Dear Secretary Burwell,

First, we thank the Department of Health and Human Services (DHS) for its professionalism and dedication to the health and wellness of all Americans. We write today to urge you to maintain this commitment in New York by working with the State to designate the Washington Heights and Inwood communities in New York, NY in Rochester, NY as Geographic Health Professional Shortage Areas (HSPAs).

As you know, defining the real health care needs of a community is complex and the factors necessary to make this determination vary by location. In the Washington Heights/Inwood and Rochester communities, families continue to confront daily health care and social problems that are characteristic of impoverished localities. For example, in Washington Heights/Inwood  the death rates related to HIV or drug abuse is eight times the national average.  In addition, Rochester has the highest rate of extreme poverty of any comparably sized city in the United States. In both communities, over fifty percent of children live in poverty and infant mortality rates are more than double the national average. The lack of access to proper health care resources exacerbates and institutionalizes statistics like these. That is why we must do what we can to increase the number of health professionals in Washington Heights/Inwood and Rochester.

On March 27, 2015, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo wrote to DHS regarding the shortage of health professionals serving the Washington Heights/Inwood and Rochester communities. The governor’s formal request was a mandatory step needed in defining Northern Manhattan and Rochester as health professional shortage areas. We urge you to work quickly to designate these communities as Geographic HPSAs. It is crucial that we provide these children and their families with the high-quality health care. Please feel free to reach out to my staff for further information.


Charles E. Schumer

United States Senator

Kirsten Gillibrand

United States Senator