While the federal government has greatly expanded funding for community health centers, it seems that its medical staff hasn't kept pace. Like their private sector counterparts, many of the country's clinics are now struggling to find the primary care physicians they need to function, despite paying reasonable salaries. Meanwhile, doctors who are on board are facing swelling caseloads, which could lead to turnover and make things worse. Health centers are coping, in part, by taking advantage of physicians participating in the National Health Service Corps, a program under which new doctors work in underserved areas in return for partial payment of their loans. The centers also use foreign-born doctors who work there in exchange for staying in the country. Still, neither of these sources are enough to fill the gap.
Federal officials note that they have increased clinic funding by $645 million since the 2002 fiscal year, much of which is bringing physicians, nurse practitioners and midwives to the underserved. Still, the average health center has a family physician staff vacancy rate of over 13 percent, with rural areas hitting 16 percent, according to one study.
To learn more about the shortage:
- read this piece from The Washington Post