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Lawmakers seek aid for rural health programs

California's LaMalfa, New Mexico's Torres Small lead bipartisan coalition of 28 House members

U.S. Reps. Doug LaMalfa, R-Calif., and Xochiti Torres Small, D-N.M., led a bipartisan group of 28 colleagues in the House of Representatives urging their leadership to preserve long-term funding and resources for rural health programs serving vulnerable populations during the COVID-19 crisis.

The lawmakers sent a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Republican leader Kevin McCarthy, both of California, after Congress enacted the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act in late March.

The emergency legislation reauthorizes community health centers, the Teaching Health Center Graduate Medical Education (THCGME) program, National Health Service Corps (NHSC), the Special Diabetes Program, and Special Diabetes Program for Indians through Nov. 30.

LaMalfa said: “In rural areas like Northern California, we have a severe shortage of physicians, resulting in less access to vital healthcare. The 12 Community Health Centers and Teaching Health Center Graduate Medical Education Programs in my district serve over 200,000 patients alone. THCGMEs, like Shasta Community Health Center in Redding, not only provide much-needed short-term care in medically underserved rural areas, but also help train physicians who will plant their roots and be there for their patients long-term. A 5-year reauthorization of critical funding for THCGMEs and CHCs helps grow the number of physicians in our area, while giving patients the stability they need.”

Torres Small said: “Rural healthcare providers already operate at the margins. Right now, they’re under even more financial strain and uncertainty without a clear, long-term plan to preserve essential programs such as THCGME and Community Health Centers. Doctors and nurses are working around the clock to protect our families and neighbors, and it’s now on Congress to step up to end unnecessary doubt and secure long-term authorization for these proven community-based programs.”

“Much of rural Northern California suffers from acute and chronic shortages of primary care physicians and the challenges in recruitment are not getting any easier,” said Dean Germano, CEO of Shasta Community Health Centers in Redding, Calif. “Our best approach is to 'grow our own' and the only way to do this is to be able to support an ACGME accredited training program like that which we have in Family Medicine. For the last several years we have managed to identify medical students who have roots in our community that we have now provided a Residency training opportunity to. By doing this, the data shows that this greatly improves the chances of retention following training if they grew up here. The only way we can afford to provide this training is through the Teaching Health Center program as the training of physicians in our country takes significant resources to accomplish.

There is no short-cut to this training nor the expense," Germano continued. "Without the Teaching Health Center program our community and our patients would be put at significant risk if we could not replenish and extend our primary care physicians in these otherwise hard to serve regions. For us, without the THC program, we would not have a Family Practice Residency program targeted to our rural health needs. It is therefore critical that the program has long term stable funding and the ability to extend the program to the many other regions of our State and Country that would greatly benefit from its obvious success.”

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