Plan underway to grow health care workforce

Goal is to increase primary care providers by up to 25 percent in a decade

0 | Workforce, Health Reform

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A map showing the Health Professional Shortage Areas (HPSAs) in 2011. The county-wide designations are marked in dark brown and the counties designated HPSAs for just low-income residents are marked in tan.

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— About sixty health care professionals are developing a plan to grow Kansas' primary health care workforce by 10 to 25 percent in the next decade.

The Health Care Workforce Partnership held a two-day symposium last week in Salina to white-board ideas for how to reach the goal. The planning is being coordinated by the Kansas Department of Commerce, which in September was awarded a $150,000 development grant under auspices of the federal health reform law.

Of the state's 105 counties, 27 were designated as county-wide Health Professional Shortage Areas (HPSAs) by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment as of February. Professionals counted in the designation include physicians, physician assistants, nurse practitioners, dentists and dental hygienists.

Another 55 counties were designated HPSAs for having too few health care providers to serve low-income residents.

More than 250 ideas were presented at the meeting, Commerce officials said. After two rounds of voting those were winnowed to four for further investigation:

  1. Develop a website and email list serv to disseminate information such as job postings, grant and other funding opportunities and best practices.
  2. Increase educational opportunities around the state for physicians, physician assistants, and nurse practitioners.
  3. Assist communities in recruiting and retaining primary care professionals.
  4. Create stipends for nurse practitioners — and potentially for physicians assistants — who agree to give primary care, attend school full-time, practice in high-need areas, or serve as a mentor.

Cathy Harding, executive director of the Kansas Association for the Medically Underserved, which represents the state's safety net clinics, attended the meeting.

"The consensus ideas are all good next steps. I think everybody walked away with some clear ideas of what the focus of the work will need to be," she said. "It's always a challenge to recruit enough primary care providers in our clinics. So we would love to see Kansas have a 10 to 25 percent increase in primary care providers."

The Salina meeting was the third of five that have been scheduled. They are open to the public.

The next meeting is set for 1:30 p.m. to 3 p.m. on May 20 in the Department of Commerce first floor conference room at the Curtis State Office Building in Topeka.

• 1:30-3 p.m., May 20 in the Dept. of Commerce first floor conference room, Curtis State Office Building (map)

Then there is a meeting from 1:30 p.m. to 3 p.m. set for June 10 in the same location.

Once the group finalizes a plan later this year, the state will be eligible to apply for an Affordable Care Act workforce development grant. The average amount for those grants is $1.5 million per year for up to three years.