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Elevating the safety net: Program to address doctor shortages

Posted: 8:16 AM, Jul 18, 2019
Updated: 2019-07-18 09:16:26-04

LOS ANGELES (Ivanhoe Newswire) — The Association of American Medical Colleges projects that the U.S. could have a shortage of up to 120,000 doctors by 2030.

That could have a disproportionately negative effect on folks in low income neighborhoods. A public healthcare plan in Los Angeles has launched an ambitious program to recruit primary care doctors to work in vulnerable communities. They truly are the heroes of healthcare. "Elevating the Safety Net" will help patients and future physicians.

Los Angeles projects that it will be short 8,800 physicians in 12 years. That would be devastating.

John Baackes, CEO, L.A. Care Health Plan, knew he had to do something.

"You either move the people to the doctors or you put some doctors where the people are, and we're attempting to do the latter," said Baackes.

He got his board to give 5% of L.A. Care's reserve, about $31 million, for a three-pronged attack on the doctor shortage. Acknowledging that medical school costs push students with huge debt into specialties that pay more, L.A. Care gave eight students full-ride scholarships and recently added eight more. All are minorities wanting to give back.

"I definitely want to work in underserved communities, that's the place I came from. My family still lives in South Central L.A., suffering from the different disparities that exist," said Parris Diaz, Charles R. Drew University medical student.

"It's really personal in a sense that it's what my parents, my parents right now even suffer through. I'm going to school to become a good doctor and potentially a community advocate," said Nguyen Pham, David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA student.

Second, L.A. Care's loan recruitment program will repay new physician debt up to $180,000 if the doctor continues to serve in the safety net for three years. Third, network clinics get grants of $125,000 for each new doctor recruited. Baackes says the program has already had impact because 32 new primary care doctors and clinics have applied.

"The payoff is a long way off, but we figure we've got to devote a portion of these resources to that as well," Baackes said.

Baackes hopes his board will make the same $31 million commitment to "Elevating the Safety Net" for the next five years.

That would mean 40 more medical school scholarships and placement of up to 400 doctors.

Thanks to billionaire Robert F. Smith, all of the Morehouse College students graduating in 2019 will have their college debts paid off. And Ken Langone, co-founder of Home Depot, donated $100 million to pay tuition for every NYU medical student.