Legislation signed by Gov. Jerry Brown last week will make it easier to attract and retain more doctors at health centers throughout the central San Joaquin Valley.
Assembly Bill 2048, introduced by Assemblymember Adam Gray, D-Merced, restructures the process for doctors who work at federally qualified health centers in impoverished and disadvantaged locations to be eligible for a federal loan repayment program.
The State Loan Repayment Program provides $1 million in federal grant funds every year to physicians, dentists, and nurse practitioners in California who agree to practice medicine in health professional shortage areas. Gray’s bill makes federally qualified health centers, like Golden Valley Health Centers and Livingston Community Health, automatically eligible to participate in the program.
“The cumbersome application process and costs associated with this program have stymied participation,” said Gray. “Just one-third of the health centers in the state have been able to jump through the hoops to even be eligible to apply. What that really means is that the clinics most in need of help were getting nothing.”
In previous years, nonprofit health centers were required to fill out a time-consuming application for the loan repayment program, and doctors working at the centers could not apply for loan repayment until the health center’s application was approved.
According to Mary-Michal Rawling, director of Governmental Affairs for Golden Valley Health Centers, the application was one that Golden Valley filled out annually.
“In order to be eligible to be on the list as a health care provider, you had to re-register with the state every year,” she said. “This new bill makes the process at the state level much more efficient. Now we know we’re always eligible no matter what, and it’s a pretty simple fix to a big problem that will make a big impact.”
While the cumbersome loan application process had contributed to the shortage of physicians in the Valley, Rawling cited other issues as well, including the opposition from many physicians to calling the Valley “home.”
“There are a lot of physicians that want to be in larger, urban areas, and that’s just not the San Joaquin Valley,” she said. “We need to do a better job of highlighting the amazing things here and the benefits of raising a family here versus the negative things that people tend to dwell on.”
Rawling hopes that AB 2048 will help to attract more physicians to the area, but also suggested that Golden Valley and other nonprofit health centers take it upon themselves to entice doctors to stay in the Valley.
“I think in the long run, the bill highlights the larger picture of physician shortage in the Central Valley, but there’s no easy answer to fixing that shortage,” said Rawling. “We’ve got to get physicians in the pipeline sooner and train them in the Valley because they’re more likely to stay, and we have to do a better job in the Valley of attracting them because we want them to come here and be part of the fabric of our community.”
“We’re trying to do everything we can to help get more doctors here.”