03.20.15

Murray Rallies Colleagues to Support Teaching Health Centers, Improve Health Care Access in Washington State and Nationwide

Washington state doctor shortage projected to reach 1,695 by 2030, according to the Robert Graham Center 

Teaching health center residency programs are a critical source of care across many underserved  populations, including in Washington state 

(Washington, D.C.) Yesterday, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), and Senator Susan Collins (R-ME), urged their colleagues to supportteaching health center residency programs, with the goal of increasing access to primary care in areas most affected by physician shortages, most notably rural communities. In a bipartisan effort, Senators Murray and Collins encouraged their colleagues from both sides of the aisle to confront the nation’s primary care shortage head-on and help ensure underserved areas have the resource to retain high-quality physicians.

“If we want a health care system that truly puts patients and families first, we need to make sure that when someone gets sick they can get the care they need, when and where they need it. That means we are going to need to tackle the looming physician shortage and ensure rural communities in Washington state and across the country have enough doctors to treat every patient,” said Senator Murray. “Teaching health centers are a critical part of this effort, and I urge my colleagues to join me and Senator Collins in supporting these important programs, so more families and communities have access to quality, affordable health care no matter where they live.”

The growing shortage of primary care physicians will hit underserved communities the hardest, including many in rural and tribal areas.  Teaching health center residency programs increase access to care in underserved communities throughout the country. Sixty-three teaching health centers in 24 states currently support more than 550 primary care residents. These teaching health centers are located in federally qualified health centers, rural health clinics, and tribal clinics, and are a significant source of care for many underserved  populations. In Washington state, teaching health centers are located in Spokane, Tacoma, Yakima, and Toppenish. Physicians trained in health centers are more than three times as likely to work in a health center and more than twice as likely to work in an underserved area, compared to those not trained at health centers.

Last year, Senator Murray introduced the Community-Based Medical Education Act of 2014, which would extend the successful, but expiring, Teaching Health Center (THC) program to 2019 and train approximately 550 medical residents each year in rural and underserved communities. 

The full text of the letter is below:

Dear Colleague:

We write to express strong support for Teaching Health Center Graduate Medical Education. At a time when our health care system is grappling with a national shortage in primary care physicians, teaching health center residency programs are a proven means of increasing access to primary care in areas of great need, especially rural communities.

Across the country, underserved communities, including many in rural and tribal areas, already deal with limited access to primary care, and will be hit hardest by this growing shortage of primary care physicians. Teaching health center residency programs increase access to care in underserved communities throughout the country. In fact, 63 teaching health centers in 24 states currently support more than 550 primary care residents. These teaching health centers are located in federally qualified health centers, rural health clinics, and tribal clinics.  As a result, they are a significant source of care across many underserved  populations, including veterans and their families, minority communities, older adults, children, and adolescents.

Teaching health center residency programs are a vital source of training for primary care medical and dental residents, expanding access to care in underserved communities across the country. The programs are training residents in accredited graduate medical education programs in high-need specialties, including family medicine, pediatrics, obstetrics and gynecology, psychiatry, general dentistry, pediatric dentistry, and geriatrics. These residents provide approximately 700,000 primary care visits in rural and other underserved communities.

By training primary care physicians in community-based settings, teaching health center residency programs have created a physician and dentist workforce pipeline that increases underserved areas’ ability to retain physicians. Residents at teaching health centers develop the skills to provide care to challenging patient populations outside of a hospital setting. As a result, physicians trained in health centers are more than three times as likely to work in a health center and more than twice as likely to work in an underserved area as those not trained at health centers.

We hope you will join us in supporting teaching health centers as they work to confront the nation’s primary care shortage head-on.

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