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The healthcare workforce shortage has been worsening over time with critical effects on hospitals, health centers, clinics, and ultimately the residents.  Nationwide trends show a lack of adequate distribution of primary care practitioners and it is projected that California will need 60 to 80 primary care physicians per 100,000 patients to adequately meet population demands.  In California, only 16 of 58 counties are meeting the supply range requirement for primary care physicians. Primary care health centers across California, which include Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs), face a myriad of challenges in attracting and retaining physicians and other clinicians.  According to a recent analysis by the California Healthcare Foundation these challenges include their inability to provide competitive salaries and other benefits such as sufficient loan forgiveness programs. FQHCs located in South Los Angeles (SLA) have been disproportionately impacted with this workforce shortage.  In 2015, South LA had only 13 primary care physicians per 100,000 people.  South LA’s healthcare workforce shortage is longstanding and exacerbates the challenge resident’s face in obtaining overall good health and well-being.

Fortunately, on June 26, 2017 Senator Bernie Sanders (VT) and Representative James Clyburn (SC) announced The Community Health Center and Primary Care Workforce Expansion Act, which aims to increase funding for health centers from $5.1 billion to $12.5 billion over next 10 years. The bill targets funding for Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs), the National Health Service Corps, Teaching Health Centers, and the Nurse Practitioner Residency Training program. Additionally, the bill includes $18 billion of funding for the infrastructure and expansion of community health centers in our nation’s most medically underserved neighborhood. As it is currently written, the bill does not provide additional specificity for funding allocation.

Community Health Councils (CHC) has taken a deeper dive to understand the issue of healthcare workforce shortage in the following ways:

  • To shed light on the importance of the Community Health Workers (CHWs) in the health systems, CHC recently released a report entitled, “The Role of Community Health Workers in Health Systems: A Multisectoral Exploration”. This report provides an overview of the role CHW’s play in the healthcare system, highlights evidence-based research and expert opinions, explores the limitations and barriers, and identifies a set of recommendations to sustain and uplift the CHW workforce.
  • In an effort to understand the healthcare workforce pipeline especially for youth of color, CHC is collaborating with local schools, organizations and clinics to develop and evaluate a Youth Workforce Development Model based on best practices and learnings from the literature. This summer internship will provide youth from South Los Angeles the ability to gain mentoring and skills across the clinic infrastructure specifically the Call Center, Human Resources, Benefits, Finance/Accounting, Clinical Operations and Medical education.  This experience will be supplemented with additional cumulative in-service learning and the opportunity to present on their experience.  This Fall, CHC will produce report on the process and highlight policy recommendations for strengthening the healthcare workforce pipeline that will aim to reduce the healthcare workforce shortage in South Los Angeles and broadly.
  • This past spring, CHC collaborated with students from the University of Southern California’s Sol Price School of Public Policy, to assess the systemic barriers and challenges affecting FQHC’s in South Los Angeles from becoming highly qualified accredited teaching health centers. This research will be presented to South Los Angeles partners within the healthcare safety-net in an effort to identify policy solutions to support FQHCs in functioning as teaching health centers or an alternative model. More will be provided as this body of work is implemented.

In light of this work, CHC will continue to monitor The Community Health Center and Primary Care Workforce Expansion Act and the heightened possibilities it presents for improving the healthcare workforce over the next 10 years. To learn more about CHC’s aforementioned policy efforts please contact Evelyn Gonzalez, Healthcare Systems Policy Director at egonzalez@chc-inc.org.