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MailTribune.com
  • Community Health Center cuts staff

    Number of primary care providers is falling, prompting the reduction
  • Community Health Center has five fewer primary care providers than it did a year ago. And even though more of its patients are covered by one form of insurance or another, fewer providers means fewer patient visits and dollars.
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    • Community Health Center numbers
      During 2013, CHC saw 8,231 unique patients compared to 10,282 in 2012.
      Total patient visits in 2013 were 26,774 compared to 38,393 in 2012.
      Of the patients seen in 2013, 53 percent were unins...
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      Community Health Center numbers
      During 2013, CHC saw 8,231 unique patients compared to 10,282 in 2012.

      Total patient visits in 2013 were 26,774 compared to 38,393 in 2012.

      Of the patients seen in 2013, 53 percent were uninsured.

      Provider shortage

      By 2020, there will be an estimated shortage of 45,000 medical providers nationwide.

      There are 830,000 medical providers over age 50, many wanting to retire.

      One in five graduating medical students select primary care careers, the rest become specialists

      Community Health Center has 11 providers on staff and 14 volunteer providers.

      — Greg Stiles
  • Community Health Center has five fewer primary care providers than it did a year ago. And even though more of its patients are covered by one form of insurance or another, fewer providers means fewer patient visits and dollars.
    The result is that Community Health Center had to lay off seven support and administrative employees at the end of last week, including records, registration and administrative staff. The layoffs reduced CHC's full-time staff to 92, including 11 providers on staff and 14 volunteer providers, said CEO William North.
    Tasked with cutting costs at the federally qualified health center when he was hired in January, North has found ways to cut expenses through electronic record-keeping, phone use and other austerity measures.
    "It became apparent, however, we couldn't do it with just cost-cutting," North said Tuesday. "Unfortunately we find ourselves in a situation where we must make the difficult decision to reduce our workforce. We are doing everything within our control to support employees who are affected by this reduction."
    CHC's budget for fiscal 2014, ending June 30, is $8.5 million, of which $1.9 million is covered by grants. Even though more patients would like to get in, there aren't enough medical staff to see them.
    "In the current fiscal year, the gap between expenses and revenues has grown to the point where we face a several-hundred-thousand-dollar deficit if we do not make changes to our operations," North said.
    CHC, which in recent years extended its clinic reach to distant parts of the county, is consolidating management of those sites, relying more on technology and electronic health records. The clinic in Ashland will be open four days a week, and its staff will work at other sites on Fridays.
    "We wish it could be different; these are great employees," board president Sue Watkins said. "But we also have to be realistic and prepare for future changes due to health care reform."
    Shortages of health care professionals aren't affecting just Community Health Center. Industry estimates anticipate there will be 45,000 primary care positions wanting by 2020.
    North said CHC has struggled to find primary care providers as medical staffs around the country compete for physicians, nurse practitioners and physician assistants. The CEO, who most recently worked in Lexington, Ky., said he met with a recruiter who was at a recent job fair.
    "He told me a year ago there were 150 candidates, and this year something like 27," North said. "There just aren't many available family medicine, pediatricians, internal medicine and OB-GYN physicians."
    Nor does he see a quick fix on the horizon.
    "It takes seven years of schooling to make a doctor, and then the ratio coming out is something like 70 percent specialists and 30 percent primary care. The demand shifted in 2011, but it's going to take three to five years for the medical schools and training programs to catch up."
    Community Health Center is a National Health Service Corp. organization, allowing licensed primary care providers to receive tuition loan repayment when they serve at such sites.
    In the short-term, North said, CHC will look to temporary providers supplied by a third-party firm as it attempts to build back its patient services. Staff positions will be filled as its financial position changes, and laid-off employees will be eligible for rehire.
    Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or business@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter @GregMTBusiness, friend him on Facebook and read his blog at www.mailtribune.com/Economic Edge.
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