Many rural and semi-rural communities, including California’s Central Valley, face significant healthcare shortages and a scarcity of healthcare providers. The problem isn’t new: For years it has been discussed, and for years little has changed.
Consequently, the likelihood of solving this problem appears bleak.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. There are opportunities to address these challenges locally, without waiting for Congress to act.
Across Merced and southern Stanislaus counties, access to medical care providers – including physicians, nurse practitioners, registered nurses, physician specialists and other health professionals – remains scarce. Five important factors compound the problem:
First, we have a growing elderly population with an even larger 85-and-older cohort.
Second, as physicians retire, replacing them has become almost impossible. Patients struggle to find doctors, often having to wait 6 to 9 months for an appointment. As a result, Urgent Care Centers have become the new primary care homes for many.
Third, southern Stanislaus and Merced counties are becoming ethnic melting pots, populated by people who have arrived from across the globe. Creating a medically and culturally competent environment is critical if we are to address both their short- and long-term medical needs.
Fourth, the absence of mental health services is impacting people of all ages, particularly children in elementary schools. These children come from a variety of environments – including war-torn countries – with families struggling to meet daily needs.
Finally, we face a long-term care crisis. Families and individuals who do not qualify for Medi-Cal are struggling. The situation is particularly difficult for people with a spouse, parent or partner living with Alzheimer’s or dementia, who cannot afford respite or adult day care services due to prohibitively high costs – assuming these services are even available.
We cannot wait for state or congressional officials to solve our specific problems. So Legacy Health Endowment is tackling these problems head-on by building our own healthcare staffing solutions.
LHE provided a $1.6 million grant to Livingston Community Health to create a Nurse Practitioner program in partnership with the Stanislaus State School of Nursing – one of the top nursing schools in the country. This week, 24 nurse practitioner students launched the first cohort and will be ready to serve our community by December, 2019. Some $1 million of this grant will fund tuition relief for students who agree to live and work as nurse practitioners within the region served by Legacy Health for at least three years after graduation.
Legacy Health’s greater region covers 19 zip codes, including the communities of West Modesto, Ceres, Turlock, Newman, Patterson, Crows Landing, Hughson, Keyes, Gustine, Newman, Hilmar, Livingston, Atwater, Denair, Winton, Ballico and Delhi. These areas suffer from an acute shortage of medical providers.
Complementing our efforts is a $300,000 grant from the Stanislaus Community Foundation to support outreach to area high schools and career navigation as well as debt relief for nursing graduates, bringing the combined total gift to $1.9 million for the nurse practitioner program.
When philanthropy is used as venture capital to invest and re-invest in community-based solutions, things get done.
The healthcare workforce shortages, long-term care crisis and the overall health needs of the northern San Joaquin Valley constitute complex challenges. This program represents a first step in addressing at least one. Over the coming months, LHE will announce other initiatives focused on addressing challenges in mental health, long-term care and other healthcare needs.
The needs are too great. It is time for the rhetoric to stop and action to begin. Our plan begins now.
Jeffrey Lewis is president and CEO of Legacy Health Endowment in Turlock. He wrote this for The Modesto Bee. Email email@example.com.