Report Shows VT Adult Primary Care Access, Workforce in Short Supply
- By Jennifer Nachbur
There’s an inadequate supply of primary care practitioners for adults in Vermont, according to newly-released findings of a survey of the state’s primary care practices. Issued by the Vermont Area Health Education Centers (AHEC) program office at the University of Vermont, the newly-released annual report, titled “Vermont Primary Care Workforce Snapshot,” identifies consistent shortages of general internal medicine physicians across all regions of the state during the survey period from 2008 to 2011.
The survey tracked clinical hours of primary care practitioners – including physicians, advanced registered nurse practitioners, certified nurse midwives, and certified physician assistants – at 224 primary care practice sites.
Among the findings was evidence of pressure on the supply of primary care providers; an increasing number of primary care practices had limited or closed their practice to new patients during the period.
Compared to 2009 figures, Southern Vermont experienced the greatest decline in full-time primary care providers, the Champlain Valley saw a lesser decline, and the Northeastern region of the state actually saw a slight improvement. The report applied national benchmarks to the Vermont population to determine how many primary care practitioners were required for what was deemed an “adequate supply.” In relation to these benchmarks, Vermont showed “a persistent shortage of more than 50 general internal medicine physicians.”
“With the state’s aging population and primary care workforce, as well as heightened competition for primary care practitioners from other states, Vermont’s ability to maintain and increase the supply of primary care providers for adults will remain a challenge,” says Denis Barton, M.A., M.B.A., director of the Office of Primary Care and AHEC Program at UVM.
According to the Association of American Medical College’s 2011 State Physician Workforce Data Book, “in 2010, there were 79.4 primary care physicians active in patient care per 100,000 population in the United States, ranging from a low of 58.4 in Utah to a high of 111.5 in Vermont.” Charles MacLean, M.D., interim associate dean for primary care, is aware that compared to other regions of the country, Vermont has better access to primary care.
“Primary care is the backbone of the health care system, but is only as strong as its ability to coordinate with a robust specialty care system,” he explains. “The Vermont Blueprint for Health approach to improving the health of Vermont’s citizens relies on a well-trained and available primary care workforce.”
“More than 40 percent of Vermont’s primary care physicians either attended medical school at UVM or completed a primary care residency at the UVM/Fletcher Allen Health Care," adds MacLean. "By continuing to train the primary care providers for the future, we help make an impact,” he says.
Several AHEC activities are expected to help offset these shortages, including the state-funded, AHEC-administered, Vermont Educational Loan Repayment Program for Primary Care Practitioners, which helps with recruiting primary care physicians to the state, as well as ongoing efforts to promote the health care field, which is projected to be the largest industry in Vermont in the next 10 to 15 years. Last December, the Vermont AHEC office distributed the 2011 edition of its Health Careers: More Than a Job directory to middle and high school guidance counselors, school nurses and health teachers, as part of its ongoing efforts to ensure the state has an adequately staffed health care workforce.
About Vermont AHEC
Established in 1996 by the Office of Primary Care at the UVM College of Medicine, AHEC is a dynamic, academic community partnership linking the UVM College of Medicine and Vermont’s communities in all fourteen counties. In collaboration with many partners, VT AHEC improves access to quality health care through its focus on workforce development. Activities include: support for pipeline programs in health careers awareness and exploration for Vermont youth; support for and engagement of UVM health professions students and residents at Fletcher Allen Health Care; and support to help recruit and retain a high-quality healthcare workforce in Vermont. In addition, AHEC brings educational and quality improvement programming to Vermont’s primary care practitioners and supports community health education. The Vermont AHEC Program is funded through multiple grants and contracts, including: Federal HRSA Title VII, State of Vermont, Vermont Department of Health, UVM College of Medicine, Fletcher Allen Health Care, Vermont’s 13 community hospitals, and private foundations. The statewide infrastructure of AHEC consists of a program office at UVM and three regional centers which are 501(c)(3), non-profit organizations. Vermont AHEC offices include Northeastern Vermont AHEC in St. Johnsbury, Vt.; Champlain Valley AHEC in St. Albans, Vt.; Southern Vermont AHEC in Springfield, Vt.; and the UVM AHEC Program Office in Burlington, Vt.