Measure targets physician shortage

U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., says the number of primary care physicians is falling across the region, and he is proposing a measure to increase the numbers.

In a news release this week, Schumer announced the Resident Physician Shortage Reduction Act, which he said would increase the number of Medicare-supported physician training residency slots by 15,000 over the next several years.

Schumer said there has been a steady decline in the number of doctors in rural areas, with New York only meeting 40 percent of its primary care needs. He said 65 percent of rural communities reported they do not have enough doctors to serve their community.

Currently, Medicare provides funding for hospitals to host a specific number of residents at a given time through Graduate Medical Education funding. Schumer’s legislation would allow Medicare to fund an additional 3,000 slots each year for five years, and priority would be given to hospitals serving areas that face a shortage of physicians.

Under Schumer’s plan, hospitals in states that emphasize training in community health centers, community-based settings or hospital outpatient departments would receive preference when applying for additional support to host physician residents.

“We have tremendous doctors providing top-notch care all across upstate New York, but we no longer have as many primary care physicians as we need,” said Schumer.

“Unfortunately, in upstate New York, our hospitals and community health centers are losing these primary care physicians left and right, as many are beginning to age out of the profession, and they are unable to hire replacements at the same pace, as new doctors frequently choose to go into more lucrative specialty fields or gravitate to more urban areas,” Schumer said.

According to Schumer, in a 2010 survey by the Center for Health Workforce Studies at the University at Albany, the average primary care physicians per 100,000 people in New York was 75. In 2013, it dropped to 63.

Fulton County’s numbers dropped from 90 in 2010 to 82 in 2013, and Montgomery County’s fell from 80 to 69.

Nathan Littauer Hospital in Gloversville and St. Mary’s Healthcare in Amsterdam both say they have no major shortage of physicians.

“At Littauer, we are currently not experiencing the same level of difficulty recruiting physicians as many other upstate hospitals are during this shortage,” according to a statement from Littauer. “All our physician staffing needs are filled with the exception of one or two in the emergency room. However, we applaud Sen. Schumer for addressing this problem happening throughout upstate.”

Jerri Cortese, spokeswoman for St. Mary’s Healthcare, said, “We have experienced some of the same issues for recruiting into the area.”

However, Cortese said, St. Mary’s has a sufficient number of physicians and midlevel providers.

Arthur Cleveland can be reached at acleveland@leaderherald.com.