When it comes to primary care providers, Warren County is slipping into poor health.
We need to start recruiting more physicians immediately, says Saint Thomas River Park Hospital CEO Dale Humphrey, and he is willing to take the lead.
“Since I’ve been here, and it will be four years in May, we’ve lost six MDs who have either retired, resigned or expired,” said Humphrey. “We’ve also lost three mid-level providers for a total of nine primary care providers lost. We’ve recruited three. We can’t get them in here quick enough.”
Humphrey said recruiting physicians can be like tackling an elephant. It’s difficult to do.
“I have an interview with one candidate this week,” said Humphrey. “They usually look at three or four places when deciding where to start a practice and it’s tough for us if they don’t have a local tie. The big cities are where people are drawn. But with a much higher cost of living and horrible traffic in big cities, we can land on their radar.”
Humphrey said he sees the need to recruit new physicians to be a continual effort.
“Saint Thomas needs to have a long-term strategy about what we need to do to accommodate primary care in the community with an aging population,” said Humphrey.
One factor that is challenging to overcome nationwide is a slight downtick in the number of people looking to become physicians. Medical school requires years to complete, which is not necessarily attractive. Add to it that student loan debt is sure to be enormous, unless family wealth allows the student to graduate without loans.
For these reasons, Humphrey says many bright minds are choosing a path less demanding than that of a physician. “There’s usually a lot of debt and reimbursements are getting less,” he said.
Humphrey said Saint Thomas plans to open its Dispensary of Hope in May. It will be located next to the hospital and provider cut-rate costs when it comes to medication.
“It’s a retail pharmacy that everybody will be able to use,” said Humphrey. “The savings will be significant. Instead of paying $50 to $100, people will be able to get their medication for $5 to $10.”
Humphrey said it’s his hope River Park can recruit two new primary care physicians in 2020.