Health-care disparities have already left the Northern San Joaquin Valley behind. The UC San Francisco primary-care workforce report showed an average of 71 primary care doctors per 100,000 population across all of California in 2015. But in the San Joaquin Valley, there are only 45 primary care doctors for every 100,000 residents.
The greater Bay Area, by contrast, has the highest number of primary-care doctors at 75 per 100,000. Only the Inland Empire in Southern California fares worse than the San Joaquin Valley at 39 doctors per 100,000.
Now for the bad news: It could get worse. One-third of all California physicians and one-third of nurse practioners are 55 or older, which suggests California will face an even more severe shortage of primary care clinicians in the coming decade.
Meanwhile, Fresno County has the second-highest asthma rate in the state (17 percent).
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The Central Valley leads California in teenage birth rates.
The Central Valley has high rates of infant mortality and later access to prenatal care.
The state’s highest poverty rates are in the Central Valley, with Fresno County being No. 1 (or 58 depending on perspective).
The Central Valley has the highest death rates due to diabetes, with Kern County at No. 1.
Stanislaus County has the highest death rate from coronary heart disease and the 5th highest death from cancers.
San Joaquin County has the highest death rate from Alzheimer’s disease.
Death from cerebrovascular disease is rampant in the Valley, with San Joaquin County ranked 4th, Fresno 5th and Stanislaus 6th.
San Joaquin is ranked the 13th most dangerous county in America.
Tulare County has the highest rate Medi-Cal enrollees (55 percent) with Merced (51.4) and Stanislaus (44.5) not far behind.
Valley patients come to emergency rooms with sore throats and other chronic diseases because they are unable to get an appointment with a primary care physician.
When I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism in 2015, I had to wait three months for an appointment just to get checked out. By the time my test results came back from the lab, my TSH levels (thyroid hormone) were 20 times normal. There are hundreds of similar stories throughout the San Joaquin Valley, where patients are burdened by diseases that could be preventable with earlier care. The supply of primary care doctors simply does not meet the demand, greatly compromising the care received.
But it’s not hopeless. One of the best solutions in reducing healthcare disparities is accepting the fact that there is a health disparity in the San Joaquin Valley. Then we can concentrate on the most essential solution – patient advocacy and education and preventative care.
We need more primary-care physicians, but most importantly, we need physicians who actually care about reducing these disparities!
UC Merced San Joaquin Valley Prime was launched in 2011, in partnership with UC Davis and UCSF-Fresno. The first cohort of six medical students started a journey to help with Valley’s healthcare disparities. The first cohort graduated in 2015, followed by two more cohorts.
The program is trying increase diversity in the medical profession and support the uneven distribution of physicians throughout California. It’s a huge step forward for the residents of the San Joaquin Valley!
Marleen Prasad was raised in Modesto, became an EMT and is now a 4th-year pre-med student at UC Davis after transferring from Merced College. She wrote this for The Modesto Bee and Merced Sun-Star.