LIMA — The south side of Lima is already among those areas to have the most significant shortage of primary care physicians in the state; a problem that could worsen next year when the federal health care law is in place.
The U.S Department of Health and Human Services identified “health professional shortage areas” and scored them from 1 to 25, with the highest numbers indicating greater problems with access to primary care.
The score is a government designation that includes population-to-primary care physician ratio, percent of the population with incomes below 100 percent of the poverty level, infant mortality rate or low birth weight rate (whichever scores more highly), and travel time or distance to nearest available source of care (whichever scores more highly).
Some health centers, such as the Health Partners of Allen County and Family Health Care of Northwest Ohio in Van Wert, received designations because of their funding.
Health Partners, along with the south side of Lima, both received a score of 19. The Van Wert Center received a 12. Hardin County scored a six. The report states that Auglaize and Putnam counties are not shortage areas. Certain areas in Cuyahoga, Hamilton, Lucas, Mahoning and Stark counties scored 19 or above.
Dr. Herb Schumm, president of St. Rita’s Professional Services and chief medical officer for St. Rita’s Health Partner, said that while primary care physicians may not be located in a certain area of a city, that does not necessarily mean they are not available to those people.
“There is a great service provided by the [health partners] clinic there, but the other part is that there are physicians that show up in different ZIP codes that are providing care to people in that area,” he said.
Some people make the decision by choice, Schumm said, not to have a relationship with a primary care physician. They instead automatically go to the emergency room or urgent care facilities.
Schumm said there is a shortage of doctors in the region; evident when looking at how many are nearing retirement and how many will be needed to replace them. He is confident that others will help fill the gap.
“The good news is there will be more than just doctors providing the care,” he said. “When you put nurse practitioners and physician assistants into that mix, they provide a very valuable component to that care.”
While Van Wert isn’t big enough to support an additional center, Family Health Care Director Jennifer Smith said the center has filled a huge need since opening in 2004. A few providers took Medicaid patients, but they limited the number. Smith said that left many with nowhere to go.
“We fulfilled a huge need by having a place they could readily go to,” she said. ”Otherwise these patients were using the emergency room for primary care, which is the least cost effective way of getting care.”
The center gets a higher reimbursement for Medicaid patients, but in return is expected to see those who don’t have insurance. Those people without insurance will continue to come when they are covered by Medicaid under the new health care law, but Smith expects the center will also see new patients.
“We might see more numbers because I think there is still a population out there that still doesn’t know what we do or who we are,” she said. “Those people who don’t have insurance sometimes don’t know the resources that are available, so they might not go to a doctor because of cost.”
Smith said the center could have to add health care providers in the future. Additional services is also a possibility. Dental care is a big need in the area, she said.
“If we are going to expand,” she said. “That is the direction we want to go with.”
Dental providers were part of the analysis. Allen County scored a 15 and the southside center a 21. The Van Wert centered scored 20 and Hardin County scored 17. Health Partners opened a dental clinic a few years ago.
Mental Health was also analyzed, with all five area counties showing some problem with access. They ranged from nine in Putnam County to 21 at the Van Wert Center. Allen County scored 11 and Health Partners scored 16.