The good news about community health centers: Federal money will be there through at least September 2019.
It's the family physicians who are missing.
That's the stark conclusion of a new report from the Robert Graham Center for Policy Studies in Family Medicine and Primary Care titled "High Demand, Low Supply: Health Centers and the Recruitment of Family Physicians," which was published in the Aug. 1 issue of American Family Physician.
Even as Congress acted in February to extend Community Health Centers Program funding for two years and increase it to $4 billion in 2019, 95 percent of the 499 centers that responded to the authors' survey reported at least one clinical vacancy. And there's at least one vacant family physician post at 69 percent of these centers.
"Those with FP vacancies reported spending an average of 11.4 months recruiting for FPs, one of the longest periods reported for any clinical position," says the report.
"In addition, 51 percent of health centers indicate that filling an FP vacancy is their highest priority."
Ten million patients received care at community health centers in 2000, a number that has grown to more than 27 million patients in more than 10,000 predominately low-income communities.
The degree to which these patients depend on family physicians is evident in the Graham Center report.
"Expansion of the Health Centers Program has been associated with persistent workforce challenges for this critical component of the primary care safety net," the report says. "Although health centers employ a multidisciplinary health professional workforce to meet the diverse needs of their patients, nearly one-half (46 percent) of all health center physicians are FPs, and survey findings suggest that FP supply is not meeting demand.
"This highlights a need for policymakers to support federal programs that create incentives and provide community-based primary care training opportunities for medical students and residents to ensure an adequate supply of FPs to staff health centers and provide care to underserved populations."
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