A plan to ease healthcare workforce shortage

One survey found there are over 2,000 job vacancies across the state

I am the CEO of Mid-State Health Center, a community health center with locations in Bristol and Plymouth. I have been fortunate to work in New Hampshire’s healthcare industry for 37 years, and I’ve seen firsthand how the lack of available workforce impacts our citizens’ access to healthcare, whether it be mental health services or primary care services. New Hampshire cannot afford to delay investing in our healthcare delivery system because the healthcare needs of our residents aren’t going away.

It’s no secret that New Hampshire is one of the oldest states in the nation by age. Like the patients they serve, the state’s well-established providers are inching closer to retirement, and many choose to cut back their hours in order to spend more time enjoying the North Country lifestyle, which leaves a gap in healthcare organizations and in access to timely care.

According to a recent survey of hospitals, community health centers, community mental health centers, home health providers, area agencies and nursing homes, there are over 2,000 healthcare vacancies across the state. The reason why New Hampshire’s healthcare system has an astounding number of open positions and why, as a result, patients go without necessary care is complicated and affects each sector differently.

To put it simply: It is a combination of low Medicaid reimbursement rates, a lack of investment in the healthcare workforce pipeline, administrative burdens faced by healthcare professionals and the organizations hiring those professionals, inadequate investment in the State Loan Repayment Program and a lack of telehealth reimbursement for primary care services.

Mid-State had been searching for a medical director for over nine months, and we are constantly recruiting for primary care providers with no end in sight. While we are able to pay a fairly competitive salary, we have difficulty recruiting qualified clinicians because the surrounding states offer incentives to clinicians, such as the availability of State Loan Repayment Program funding, that New Hampshire doesn’t.

The State Loan Repayment Program offers student loan repayment to primary care, behavioral health, substance use disorder and dental healthcare clinicians working in medically underserved areas for a minimum of three years full-time or two years part-time. This is the No. 1 recruitment and retention tool for healthcare organizations, including community health centers.

The result of the state’s lack of investment in tried-and-true programs like SLRP means practices throughout the state delay onboarding new patients. This means that patients go without the care they need.

Amidst the worst healthcare workforce shortage New Hampshire’s ever seen, there is a beacon of hope: a legislative proposal that was developed by a bipartisan coalition of over 50 Granite State healthcare organizations, health education and policy experts, the Business and Industry Association and elected officials to address these systemic healthcare workforce challenges.

The proposal, based on decades of knowledge and experience, includes investments in tried-and-true programs, including increased funding for the State Loan Repayment Program. The proposal also reduces administrative burdens employers experience when hiring clinicians, expands access to healthcare education programming, and implements a reasonable and long overdue Medicaid rate increase for all Medicaid providers.

The can can’t be kicked down the road any longer: All Granite Staters need and deserve access to healthcare services. I ask that our elected officials continue to listen to the clinicians who serve our most rural and underserved communities and address our healthcare workforce shortage in a systematic fashion by including this bipartisan proposal in the state’s budget.

Robert McLeod is CEO of Mid-State Health Center, which has offices in Plymouth and Bristol.

Categories: Opinion