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EXCLUSIVE: Primary care crisis across Upstate NY rooted in workforce, access issues

Community health center leaders from New York and across the nation met in Washington last week. They were strategizing about how to address the country’s primary-care crisis.

This means examining solutions to workforce shortages, inflationary costs and other issues. New York ranked sixth on a report’s top ten listing of states with high medically disenfranchised populations.

Paloma Hernandez, board chair for the National Association of Community Health Centers, noted that workforce issues need serious attention.

“After the pandemic, with the COVID funding ending, many of us faced a lot of challenges in just being able to recruit and retain staff,” said Hernandez. “So providers, the primary-care provider shortage is very real to us.”

While Congress has approved short-term stopgap measures to fund the federal government, Hernandez said she hopes to see long-term funding sustain necessary programs.

Bipartisan legislation is pending in both chambers of Congress to increase health-center funding and key workforce programs. Now, it’s up to lawmakers to reach an agreement.

Losing health-care coverage post-pandemic has only made things worse. People automatically enrolled in Medicaid during the pandemic were dropped when the public health emergency ended.

Hernandez said this leaves health centers in a predicament.

“There are so many people who were covered with insurance during the pandemic, and now they’re in the process of having to reapply and many of them falling off the rolls,” said Hernandez. “So, we have people who need care, we don’t have enough providers to provide the care that we have.”

An Association of American Medical Colleges Report finds demand for primary-care physicians will grow faster than supply.

By 2034, the report finds the shortage will range from almost 38,000 to 124,000 physicians.

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul has called for expanding primary-care access and increasing Medicaid rates for providers participating in the Patient-Centered Medical Homes care model.