SACRAMENTO — The critical and longstanding shortage of doctors in the region has received overdue attention and some financial wherewithal to address it in a concrete manner — though physicians won’t be arriving in droves anytime soon. The hope is to turn millennials into doctors.

To help alleviate the physician shortage in his district, Democratic Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia requested $40 million to expand the UC graduate medical education program. The Legislature approved his request and it was included in 2018-19 budget. Garcia is working to leverage opportunities through the University of California, Riverside School of Medicine.

The move is being lauded by the leadership of Eisenhower Health in Rancho Mirage, John F. Kennedy Memorial Hospital in Indio and Pioneers Memorial Healthcare District in Imperial County.

“As the Coachella Valley’s first Teaching Hospital, we have seen firsthand how our graduate medical program has positively affected our patients,” Martin Massiello, Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer at Eisenhower Health, told Uken Report. “Bringing newly graduated medical students into our organization not only helps elevate the care we give, but also provides additional physicians to address the growing need for new physicians in our area. Assemblyman Garcia’s securing funding for the UC Graduate Medical Education program is a win-win for patients and providers.”

JFK Memorial leaders echoed those sentiments.

“We applaud and support Assemblyman Garcia’s efforts to secure funding from the state to help bring additional medical services into our community,” Todd Burke, a spokesman for JFK Memorial told Uken Report.  “The governor’s budget included a $40 million allocation for UC graduate medical education programs and $15 million for mental health residency slots.  We look forward to working collaboratively with Assemblyman Garcia to help secure access to some of these funds for the eastern Coachella Valley, where the need for new primary care physicians and mental health services is most acute.”

Currently, six out of nine California regions face a dire primary care shortage. California ranks 23rd in the nation for the number of physicians it has per resident.

$40 Million Secured to Ease Doctor Shortage

Assemblyman Eduardo Garcia fights for funding to address the physician shortage.

“Half of Californians live in a community where they do not have adequate access to necessary healthcare services. This issue disproportionately affects rural areas like those in my district. These funds to expand the UC graduate medical education program are critical to helping alleviate the severe physician shortage that exists in Imperial County,” Garcia said in a prepared statement.

“Securing this $40 million in the budget was an absolute priority for me. The UC graduate medical education program has the flexibility to establish residency slots for specialists as well as to initiate new programs in low-income areas like ours that have been encountering extreme difficulties attracting physicians. This investment is a major step toward expanding healthcare opportunities for our 56th Assembly District communities.”

Over the years, Garcia has worked closely with both Riverside and Imperial County healthcare agencies such as Pioneers Memorial Healthcare District to procure much-needed state resources. Pioneers Memorial Healthcare District manages the hospital and is the leading healthcare service provider for residents in Imperial County. A majority of that service area is comprised of Medi-Cal members. Roughly estimated, there is one physician to every 9,000 residents within the county. The normal ratio across the nation is one physician for every 2,000 people.

The lack of access means residents have to drive long distances to access the care they need, which means time away from work and lost income. Or, they simply forego needed medical attention.

The shortage isn’t just in the 42nd Assembly District. It permeates throughout Riverside County. Riverside County has fewer than 35 primary care physicians for every 100,000 residents. Los Angeles County, by contrast, has 48 primary care docs per 100,000, which is still considered too low, according to an in-depth report in Politico. In 2016, the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation ranked each California county by overall health outcomes, and pegged Riverside at 40th out of 57. (Inland Empire counties San Bernardino and Imperial counties fared even worse.)

“I highly commend Assemblymember Garcia’s leadership and consistent efforts to address health disparities in our community. For over 50 years, Pioneers Memorial Healthcare District has worked to provide state of the art health services and programs in Imperial County with limited resources and physicians. The expansion of the UC graduate medical education program will enhance our ability to tackle widespread provider shortages in our low income, rural area,” Larry Lewis, CEO of Pioneers Memorial Healthcare District said in a prepared statement.

Garcia represents the 56th district, which comprises the cities and communities of Blythe, Brawley, Bermuda Dunes, Calexico, Calipatria, Cathedral City, Coachella, Desert Hot Springs, El Centro, Holtville, Imperial, Indio, Mecca, Oasis, North Shore, Salton Sea, Thermal, Thousand Palms, and Westmorland.