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Rural physician shortage addressed in policy outline

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An evolving plan announced Thursday attacks physician shortages and cascading hospital closures that leave patients waiting months for treatment.

Seven members of the U.S. Senate Finance Committee — including four Republicans and three Democrats — said in a policy outline that a legislative solution to the “clear” problem would be beneficial.

“As a bipartisan group of members of the Senate Finance Committee, which has jurisdiction over the Medicare Graduate Medical Education program, we are interested in advancing additional Medicare GME proposals to address health care workforce shortages and gaps,” the senators wrote.

The proposed policy would tackle primary care and psychiatry services in rural and underserved communities.

According to the Sheps Center for Health Services Research in Chapel Hill, N.C., there have been 105 complete closures of rural hospitals and 87 converted closures since January 2005. In North Carolina, there have been 12 rural hospital closures since 2005.

Seven of those came in a 51-month span ending in December 2017. The latest was Martin General in Williamston last August.

The panel is led by Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and includes Sens. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., John Cornyn, R-Texas, Robert Menendez, D-N.J., Bill Cassidy, R-La., Michael Bennet, D-Colo., Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., and Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn.

Other rural hospitals in the state closing in the last 20 years include Our Community in Scotland Neck, December 2017; Sandhills Regional in Hamlet, November 2017; Davie Medical in Mocksville, March 2017; Novant Health Franklin Medical in Louisburg, October 2015; Yadkin Valley Community in Yadkinville, May 2015; Vidant Pungo in Belhaven, June 2014; Blowing Rock in Blowing Rock, October 2013; Crawley Memorial in Boiling Springs, December 2009; Frye Regional Medical in Taylorsville, February 2007; Mission Family Health in Burnsville, September 2006; and Good Hope in Erwin, April 2006.