Community health centers play an important role in increasing access to healthcare for millions of underserved Americans. They extend the care safety net into rural areas where provider shortages cause residents to travel extensively to a more urban setting to receive treatment.
Currently, there are close to 1,400 community health centers around the country, serving 28 million Americans. While these organizations are facing political uncertainties related to funding, there are other factors threatening this important safety net. In 2019, a big challenge for community health centers is to find enough staff to provide necessary services to their patients.
Staffing Challenges at CHCs Put Patients at Risk
One report put it this way; “Expansion of the Health Centers Program has been associated with persistent workforce challenges for this critical component of our primary care safety net.” This same report pointed out that more than 10 percent of all primary care physician vacancies existed across the nation at community health centers, and 95 percent report empty seats in multiple clinical roles. Some of the other shortages include:
- 48% of all community health centers report a shortage of medical assistants;
- 41% report nursing shortages;
- 38% report a shortage of licensed clinical social workers; and
- 37% report shortages of dentists.
Part of the challenge is that community health centers are often located in rural areas where it’s harder to recruit new job candidates. Urban areas have more activities, better housing choices, and are simply more vibrantly attractive to clinical providers, in part because they cannot offer the rate of pay their big city counterparts pay. Community health centers are mission-driven, and while there is emotional satisfaction in helping less fortunate people in rural areas, the truth is financial incentives urban facilities are paying are just too steep to compete with.
Complicating the issue is the fact that not enough physicians and nurses are coming into the field; reports indicate there will be severe shortages of clinicians across all medical specialties by 2020.
Another concern is that healthcare costs continue to rise. Analysts predict five percent increases in healthcare costs over the next several years, which will place increasing pressure on the entire healthcare community to do more with less. By 2026, spending on healthcare in the United States will reach $5.7 trillion. Higher costs mean wages, incentives and other perks will likely be affected in community health centers, as well as across other healthcare institutions.
Within these challenges lies the increasing burden of providing care to Americans who have more chronic long-term diseases. Today, 45 percent of Americans have at least one chronic disease such as cancer, diabetes, heart disease, or asthma. This is particularly concerning because this is coming at a time when baby boomers are retiring at a rate of 10,000 Americans per day. Boomers will place unprecedented strains on our government system of Medicare and Medicaid.
Finally, trends show reimbursement is declining across the healthcare safety net. Further, Congressional gridlock has caused some unprecedented challenges for federal funding. These challenges show the vulnerability of community health centers, while at the same time illustrating their vital place in the safety net.
Community health centers must now seek new partnerships to ensure staffing to meet these challenges. UHC Solutions has been providing staffing solutions to our community healthcare partners for more than two decade. Contact us to find out more.