Shortage of Health Care Workers In N.H. Limits Access To Services

Feb 14, 2019

Credit PEXELS

New Hampshire's shortage of workers not only affects the state's overall economic growth, but it's also limiting access to health care services.

Morning Edition Host Rick Ganley spoke with Bob MacLeod, the CEO of Mid-State Health Center in Plymouth, about how he's struggling to find enough primary care physicians to keep up with the demand.

This is a partial transcript from the interview. To hear the whole conversation, click on the audio above.

Ultimately, is this workforce shortage affecting the senator's ability to provide all the services that you would want to?

Yes, and I think some of it really has to do -- and I have to drive home this point. We have about 18 percent, or maybe in Bristol a little higher, maybe 20 percent of our patient population is Medicaid. So for every Medicaid patient we bring in to treat, which is our mission and we're driven to do that, but we lose money because the Medicaid payments in this state are not as robust as they may be in other parts of the country. Now how does that tie into the workforce? Well, it limits us sometimes to be competitive in our recruitment for compensation. You know we struggle with how long can we continue to give them health insurance because that's very costly.

So as a CEO of a health center you're worried about providing health insurance for your employees?

Absolutely. We're looking at roughly a little shy of $1 million a year in premium payments. We're committed to continue to do that. We're looking at all sorts of creative ways to keep that going because we think it's important for our staff in particular to have health insurance. But I would be remiss if I didn't say that it's a challenge every year to plug that into our operating budget.

Yeah, there's an irony there.

There is an irony there, Rick. Absolutely.

Morning Edition Host Rick Ganley also spoke with NHPR's health reporter Jason Moon about some of the proposed solutions to this health care worker shortage.

This is a partial transcript from the interview. To listen to the whole conversation, click the audio above.

Jason, there's is a bipartisan effort at the statehouse right now with SB 308 to help make it easier to hire and retain health care workers. What are some of the proposals outlined in that bill?

Well, there are a lot. [There's] everything from investing money in scholarship programs for people who are entering the health care industry [to] money for training programs for people who are already professionals in the health care industry to get additional credentials or to do some career advancement here in New Hampshire. And then there's also an increase in the Medicaid reimbursement rates, which you heard Bob [MacLeod] say that was a really important thing for them.

Yeah, he really did. He said he's really hopeful about this bill in particular because of reimbursement rates. Can you explain how that might happen?

Yeah, and as far as this bill goes that's the really big ask. They want to raise the rates over the next two years, and that would be a really significant investment from the state. We're talking tens of millions of dollars here. And the basic idea, as he sort of outlined, is that if they're not losing money on those Medicaid patients, they could pay their employees better, the doctors the nurses more, and encourage more people to come work there.

And that's just an issue that you hear a lot from health care providers around the state, whether it's the closures of maternity units around the state or the lack of mental health services around the state, what you hear over and over again is the Medicaid reimbursement rates are just too low for them to make money on those patients. And so that's a really big priority for the health care industry right now.