Assemblyman Jim Wood on new statewide commission on the future of health care

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California’s severe shortage of primary care doctors is among the pressing health care issues that will be examined by a new statewide commission bringing together leaders in health, education and workforce development.

Assemblyman Jim Wood, D-Healdsburg, chairman of the Assembly Health Committee, is among the two dozen people on the California Future Health Workforce Commission who will convene over the next 15 months with the goal of drafting a master plan for bolstering the state’s health workforce. The first of its kind in the state, the commission will emphasize primary care, mental health and care for the aging.

“The current system we have isn’t really sustainable,” said Wood, who was a dentist in Cloverdale before joining the State Assembly. ”As our population ages, we need to make sure we have the right people in the right places to take care of them.”

The commission is co-chaired by Janet Napolitano, president of the University of California, the largest health education and training system in the country, along with Lloyd Dean, president and CEO of state health care giant Dignity Health. Members of the panel include representatives from Cedar-Sinai, Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science, California Health and Human Services Agency, California Department of Eduction, Stanford University, California Community Colleges and Kaiser Permanente, among others.

The work of the panel is being underwritten by the state’s leading health philanthropies: The California Endowment, California Health Care Foundation, The California Wellness Foundation and Blue Shield of California Foundation. Sandra Hernandez, president and CEO of the California Health Care Foundation, said the commission’s goal is to consider the diverse needs of the state’s population and come up with ways to invest in a workforce that meets those needs.

One persistent problem is the shortage of primary health care providers in areas that need them the most, such as rural parts of the state. Hernandez said there is an uneven distribution of medical providers in the states, with many gravitating toward urban population centers where pay is higher.

“One piece of this is to create training opportunities in areas where we have very severe workforce shortages,” she said.

Wood agreed.

“I believe we have the right number of people to serve the needs of California; they’re just not all in the right place,” he said.

Wood added that the state is expected to lose about 4,100 primary care clinicians, including doctors and nurse practitioners, by 2030. He said in Mendocino County, the average doctor’s age is 62.

“By 2030, a lot of those folks are going to be retired,” he said. “The challenges get even more significant in even more rural areas.”

Other topics the panel will discuss include:

Ways of promoting health and improving efficiency of care delivery;

Addressing rising health care and education costs;

Increasing opportunities for California residents to join the health care workforce in their own communities; and

Trying to address the lack of diversity among health workers.

The primary health care shortage was exacerbated by the flood of newly insured patients under former President Obama’s Affordable Care Act, said Suzie Shupe, CEO of the Redwood Community Health Coalition, a consortium of Northern California community health centers. Shupe said the ACA successfully reduced the number of Americans previously uninsured, but local health care providers, including health centers, could not expand fast enough to meet the need.

The health care law, known as Obamacare, also provided additional funds for health centers to expand their facilities. Shupe said in addition to primary care doctors, it remains a challenge to recruit nurse practitioners, medical assistants and mental health providers.

She hopes the commission will examine ways to help young medical professionals pay for their education, examine programs that allow health centers to recruit more staff and also find ways to expand training opportunities for health care professionals like medical assistants.

Wood said he and other members will be getting significant background material on the state’s current health care landscape before taking a “fairly deep dive” in Oakland on Sept. 28, the commission’s first scheduled meeting.

“At the end of the day, what we really need to do is have a master plan to identify what the workforce of the future should look like,” Wood said.

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