Report: Community Health Centers Work to Address Primary-Care Shortage

Suzanne Potter | California News Service
A new report finds that the number of individuals who face a lack of health-care options has gone up since 2014. Photo Credit: Syda Productions / Adobestock

Health insurance does not help you if you can’t find a primary-care doctor – and that is a problem for 100 million Americans, according to a new report. Researchers from the National Association of Community Health Centers have found that one-quarter of medically disenfranchised people are children.

Joe Dunn, senior vice president for public policy, National Association of Community Health Centers said one-third of the nation struggles to get an appointment – a percentage that has risen over the past decade.

“That’s largely due to the consolidation across the health-care system, and the worsening shortage of primary-care providers. Our health centers, especially in this post-COVID environment, they want to retain and recruit new providers, but it’s just a real challenge,” Dunn said.

Officials estimate the state need about 4,700 additional primary-care clinicians in 2025 and about 4,100 additional providers in 2030 to meet demand. California has multiple programs designed to attract more medical students to choose primary care – and then to practice in rural areas, where the need is greatest.

Dunn says 30 million low-income patients per year depend on community health centers.

“40% of health centers are in rural areas,” Dunn said. “And those are often in communities where there’s little other kind of network infrastructure to take care of the patients that typically go to a health center. 90% of the patients are at or below the 200% of the federal poverty level.”

Denise Nix, a spokesperson for Physicians Retraining and Reentry – an education company started by a professor at UC San Diego that helps specialists re-train to serve as primary care physicians, said says California needs more hands-on deck to lighten the load.

“Physicians today are struggling with large caseloads, requirements to keep exams short, administrative demands, insurance requirements. And then there’s the burnout that comes with working in a deadly pandemic for the last few years,” she said.

A state program called Let’s Get Healthy California has mapped out the physician shortage, and finds that Alpine, Calaveras, Glenn, San Benito and Sierra counties have the biggest deficit.