Panhandle Health : Shortage of health care professionals in rural communities

Hospitals in rural communities in the Texas Panhandle and throughout the state are dealing with a shortage of health care staff (Drew Powell ABC 7 News)

There is a shortage of qualified health care professionals in rural hospitals in Texas Panhandle. CEOs of two rural hospitals tell ABC 7 News the shortage is at a critical level.

“Yes, there is a huge physician shortage, a nurse practitioner shortage, a physician assistant shortage and a shortage of folks that want to come and work in rural areas,” said Jonathan Bailey, the CEO of Hansford County Hospital District. “We are seeing a lot more med students go into residency and specializing instead of doing family practice or general practice.”

“As the baby boomers start to age and retire, were seeing more and more of a need,” said Don Bates, the CEO of Golden Plains Community Hospital. “The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts by 2022 will have a 1.2 million shortage of registered nurses in the nation. The Texas Hospital Association is predicting by 2020 that will have a 70,000 shortage of registered nurses in the state.”

So, what are hospitals in rural communities doing to help address the shortage? Enter the Gateway Program through Borger ISD. It is a concept that Bates tells ABC 7 News is about growing your own by piquing the interest of the next generation to work at a rural hospital.

“In the first year we had 17 students. Now in the second year, we have 40 students,” said Bates. “We will select three to pay for college provided they come back and give us three years of service. We are anxious to have some of the outer lining communities also get involved with this program.”

“We definitely see a shortage in rural communities especially, so hopefully these students will be able to come back,” said Kathryn Sims, a Health Science instructor. “They have a connection here and be able to provide care for the community itself.”

High School students take classes in various fields of health care and can apply for scholarships. There are strict requirements the students have to agree to in order to receive financial assistance.

“This partnership allows students to get into a hospital setting and be exposed to clinical areas,” said Sims. “They can come back and work for the hospital.”

Rural hospitals also turn to recruiting firms that help with a regional or national search to find potential qualified applicants who will work at a hospital in a rural clinic.

“First strategy we try to grow our own,” said Bailey. “That’s typically where we have most of our success. When we can’t get enough folks that way to fill up positions, we will do a national wide search for your physician level positions, nurse practitioners and PA’s. We will engage with a recruiting firm to get our name out there.”

Bates tells ABC 7 News another solution might be hospitals working together more through partnerships that address staffing.

“I think the answer to our problem in rural Texas is collaboration,” said Bates. “Often in the past it was competition and now we have to work to get together to solve these problems.”

There is no quick fix to address the shortfall of qualified health care providers but with the success of the Gateway Program it is a step in the right direction.

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