Connections April 2016 - NACHC Report

NACHC Report: Health Centers Identify Workforce Challenges as Barrier to Growth

(from the National Association of Community Health Centers

A new report reveals that almost all Community Health Centers (95 percent) are currently experiencing at least one clinical vacancy, and more than two-thirds (69 percent) are recruiting for at least one family physician.

The report, “Staffing The Safety Net: Building the Primary Care Workforce at America’s Health Centers,” issued by the National Association of Community Health Centers (NACHC), comes as health centers are serving Americans in greater numbers than ever before: more than 24 million people, or one in 14 Americans.

Health centers started more than 50 years ago as a daring experiment in President Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty. Today, that pilot project has evolved into the largest and most successful primary healthcare system in the U.S. As proven innovators in addressing chronic disease, they also save the nation’s healthcare system about $24 billion annually through effective patient management and a reduction in the need for costlier care such as hospitalizations and emergency room visits. Yet, despite the historic growth in recent years among both health center staff and patients, the challenge of recruiting, training, and retaining needed staff remains a persistent limiting factor when it comes to expanding access to care. By health centers’ own estimates, if all clinical vacancies were filled today, health centers could serve an additional two million patients.

“There is a growing awareness in the U.S. about the need to grow our primary care workforce in general and it is important to note that health centers are already trying to do that by ‘growing their own,’” said Ron Yee, MD, chief medical officer at NACHC. “Health centers are actively training and educating the next generation of primary care providers and devote significant resources to the task. But they cannot do it alone. We must prioritize our national investment in initiatives like the National Health Service Corps (NHSC), Teaching Health Centers and other training programs – as well as innovative solutions like telehealth – to help bridge the workforce gap.”

Despite these staffing challenges, health centers continue to apply bold community-based solutions to improve population health. They are starting food banks and community gardens, providing housing assistance and job training, and integrating behavioral and oral health with primary care, according to NACHC’s report.

Other findings of the report include:

  • 56 percent of health centers report at least one behavioral health staff vacancy, such as a licensed clinical social worker, psychologist, or other mental health/substance abuse professional.
  • Health centers have higher average vacancy rates for physicians than hospitals.
  • More than half of all NHSC participants are providing care at a health center.
  • Health center providers make up 53 percent of current NHSC participants, and 61 percent of currently listed NHSC vacancies are at health centers.