Shortage looms of health care professionals

Medical professionals screen people at a 2018 festival in Costa Mesa. (Photo: David Bruckmann, via Shutterstock)

California faces a dramatic shortage of health care professionals over the next decade, and the state should take steps now to deal with the problem, according to a new report.

“In just 10 years … California is projected to face a shortfall of more than 4,100 primary care clinicians and 600,000 home care workers, and will have only two-thirds of the psychiatrists it needs,” said the study, Meeting the Demand for Health, the Final Report of the California Future Health Workforce Commission.

The commission reports that the workforce shortage is particularly acute in minority communities. What the report identified as Health Professional Shortage Areas (HPSAs) are zones where there is a shortage for dental health, primary care, or mental health services.

HPSAs already affect around seven million Californians, most of whom are members of minority groups, including Latinos, African Americans and Native Americans. The HPSAs most affected so far are large growing areas like the Inland Empire, San Joaquin Valley, and Los Angeles.

The commission also reported that quality affordable care will be difficult to obtain in the future, in part because of the large numbers of retiring baby boomers and the rise in the cost of living.  

By 2030, the majority of Californians are likely to be people of color. The report suggested that the growing diversity means that people of color, who are already not represented well in health care, will become even less so as time goes on.  

“While Latinos are now nearly 40% of the state’s population, for example, they compose only 7% of physicians. More than seven million Californians have limited English proficiency and would benefit from multilingual providers — yet few are available,” the report noted.

The commission listed numerous priorities to begin attacking the shortages.

Those included better preparing minority students for jobs in health care. California has already started doing this by providing programs that would train some 5,700 students for health care jobs over the decade at a per-student cost of $11,000. There are partnerships with colleges for low-income students would help get an additional 25,000 health care workers also in the span of 10 years.

The report also suggested creating a scholarship program that would help support 3,810 students for 10 years on their paths towards working in the medical field, and urged expanding the medical programs at UC campuses. This would result in 40 more students being accepted every year into UC’s medical programs.

The commission  also proposed starting a program for medical students that would give them full scholarships if they practice in minority areas. This program is expected to be fully completed by 2026 and will increase the number of medical students by up to 480.

The commission also said the numbers of nurse practitioners should be increased in minority areas, to 44,000 by 2028.

The panel noted that increasing the number of health care workers would help save an estimated $2.7 billion over 10 years because it would reduce the number of emergency-room visits.

Editor’s Note: Monet Muscat is a Capitol Weekly intern from the Met Sacramento High School.

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